Sheltering income from inheritance tax is the principal reason for the flight to farmland which is particularly popular with those who grew up on farms before pursuing other careers.
One agent estimates active farmers were the successful bidder in just 20% of land sales in 2017.
Anecdotally, average values have continued to rise steadily with best-in-class achieving £13,500/acre compared with £12,500/acre in 2016.
Prices being paid are yet to reach the £16,000/acre pre-recession peak but are following a pattern of steady annual growth.
Supply set to increase
Northern Irish farmland trades in low numbers compared with the UK; in a busy year about 900 acres might hit the open market.
Gary Best, director of Newry-based Best Property Services, says 2017 was a quiet year for supply but 2018 is shaping up to be different.
“Last year supply was down about 25% on 2016 but it’s hard to put your finger on why that was,” Mr Best said.
“The early signals are that 2018 is going to be more like 2016.”
Regardless of supply, Mr Best expects investors to continue to out-number farmer buyers.
“I would estimate only 15-20% of land was bought by active farmers last year.
“A lot of investors are only one generation from the land or were brought up on a farm so as well as inheritance tax relief being a driver, they do a bit of weekend farming, hobby farming or let the land out.
“Farmers may start the bidding, but it’s non-farmers who are stretching themselves to get the land.”
Low supply has meant buyers cannot afford to be picky and this has led to few pockets of strength in terms of premium prices being paid.
Land around the A1 corridor from Dublin to Belfast continues to be popular, but any land with road frontage is attractive.
Savills says it expects a busy year selling a number of larger estates that will appeal to farmers more than investors.
Pat O’Hagan, the firm’s regional sales manager, said the sale of a 104-acre farm at Eglington, near Derry, with ploughable pasture and cattle buildings is going through in excess of its £900,000 guide price.
“We have a number of other farms with land, buildings and houses coming to the market this year,” he said.
They include a 250-acre grassland unit in the Coleraine area of County Londonderry, and another estate of a similar size in County Down.
“It’s quite unusual to see whole farms over 100 acres coming to the market in Northern Ireland so we are expecting good levels of interest,” Mr O’Hagan added.
What’s on the market?
Farmers have an opportunity to create a 122-acre holding on Armagh Road near Newry, County Down, where a ring-fenced block of grassland with planning permission for a replacement farmhouse is for sale.
A bid is on the table at £1.25m but the farm will go to auction next month and is set to make around £1.5m with Best Property Services.
The firm also has 80 acres of land at Summerisland Road, five miles north-east of Armagh at Loughgall.
Offers stand at about £500,000 for the nine grassland fields, which could sell in as many as three lots with an auction pending in April.
English farmland market in numbers
This week marks the end of Farmers Weekly’s regional analysis of the land market across the UK.
Despite overall supply being back about 10% in 2017, the amount of land for sale in England is around the five-year average.
Here are some of the key numbers that have been featured during the regional series.
- £16,500 is the top price paid for an acre of arable land
- The most expensive grassland sold in 2017 cost £10,000/acre
- The average acre of arable land in England in 2017 was £9,300
- The lowest price paid for grassland in England was £4,000/acre
- About 59% of land was sold to farmers in 2017
- There were 235 farms publicly marketed in England last year
- North-east England marketed just eight farms – the least across England
- While 43 were marketed in the South West – the most across England
- The total acreage marketed in England in 2017 was 84,900
Source: Strutt & Parker farmland database