Land sales are set for a boost after SFP cash

There is no doubt that after the lack of farms on the market last year, 2006 will prove to be very different.

Change is very definitely afoot.

As I sit and write this article, Lord Bach has announced that full single farm payments “would be completed in March”.

With our experience of the Rural Payments Agency that probably means April but a huge relief to the whole of the agricultural community and – not before time – a much needed injection of cash.

This will help boost a strong 2006 land market.

In north Wilts, our year started off well with the sale of 118-acre Windmill Farm in Cricklade, which was agreed well over the guide price of £895,000.

The added attraction of a solid income from a small set of light industrial units highlighted the interest and need for holdings to have a diversified income.

Undoubtedly, the headline of “Farmer buys Farm” has become a rare event since the majority of purchasers are non-farming/lifestyle buyers with deep pockets, seeking either to invest in a rural home or to diversify using the farm as more of an “estate”, eg letting some of the land, planting trees/coppices and improving the buildings probably for a non-agricultural use.

Woolley & Wallis is about to launch a 70-acre former dairy farm near Melksham in the west of the county, which will not remain within agriculture.

The likelihood is that it will appeal to those with an equestrian point of view or those wishing to speculate and use the buildings for some commercial purposes.

Either way, Wilts farmers can be reassured – and grateful – that there are still strong non-agricultural funds available to support high land prices.

I am surprised at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ recent report of land values slipping back.

There seems to be no sign of that happening in north and west Wilts and demand is as strong as ever.

We have recently agreed the sale of 60 acres of permanent pasture and a single steel barn at figures between £5000 and £6000/acre.

One of our other Wilts offices has achieved strong sales with the sale of 67 acres of good quality chalk arable land for a figure approaching £4000/acre.

In addition, a sale of 36 acres of heavier permanent pasture achieved about £4375/acre.

There are going to be more commercial farms on the market and some are already quietly available but not being paraded openly.

In particular, there are a number of 200-400-acre dairy farmers who are having a very serious think about how to manage their future, with milk at 17p/litre for the foreseeable future.

The temporary comfort is that there are still substantial funds available from the farming sector for a good commercial arable/livestock farm because there is little or no choice.

The SFP will drip through, and after the banks have had their share, it will persuade more farmers to sell.

The prospect of more SFP and environmental paperwork is more than most can bear.

There could hardly be a better time to come to the market due to lack of supply, good demand, availability of funds and lastly, but by no means least, before the Chancellor of the Exchequer changes the rules on inheritance tax relief.