North-south divide evident in UK upland farm market

The market for UK hill farms remains healthy but interest is diverse and not purely driven by agriculture.

The value of Scottish holdings continues to be underpinned by the forestry sector – a trend also recognised in Wales, albeit to a lesser extent.

Agents in England say hill farm supply is limited but those that do hit the market have been snapped up by expanding farmers.

Hill farms arguably have most to lose if farm support is eroded or lost, according to Clive Hopkins, head of farms and estates at Knight Frank.

“I would expect that very few hill farmers would be behind Brexit,” he said.

“If there is any support in the medium term they are likely to be the recipients, but I expect support to drop or maybe go.”

But there’s no real evidence that hill farmers are looking to sell up and get out.

“They are resilient so we wouldn’t expect there to be and there are those who are excited at the potential for a freer market to operate in.”

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As a result, Mr Hopkins says that market activity has been limited over the past 12 months with his firm involved in just a couple of sales.

“Those few that have been on have seen good interest from expanding farmers. Forestry plays a part in Wales and the Borders, the big thing being location to market. That’s the key; proximity to ports and timber yards.”

Scotland is a different proposition, with ambitious government targets set for afforestation and a favourable tax climate encouraging a range of buyer types to bid for any plantable land.

Stock farms targeted by supply-starved forestry investors

Large hill farms are at the top of wish lists and, in contrast to matters south of the border, politics and succession are leading some farmers to consider their options.

CKD Galbraith says it has sold six hill farms in the past 12 months, with more potentially coming through next spring.

International investors taking advantage of the exchange rate have been active, purchasing with the intention of planting trees.

Just two hill farms the firm has sold have gone to farmers, according to firm partner Duncan Barrie.

“Forestry interest has been in existence for quite a while but it’s been stronger this year than before. Blocks have been selling well in excess of guides.

“Some farmers with no succession plan in place, coupled with the fact that there is a potential drop in subsidy payments, are starting to evaluate their options.

“With the way forestry values are going, this is an opportune time for them to sell.”

Mr Barrie added that where forestry buyers were involved, only farmers with rollover funds were able to compete, with guide prices often far exceeded.

H&H Land and Property says it has seen strong interest in the hill farms in northern England it has handled this year.

Expanding farmers have competed with lifestyle buyers in some instances, with prices strong in the auction room.

Clive Tomlinson, a director with the firm, says supply is slow but that farmers have been quick to view any that does hit the market.

“The mood remains pretty positive. I haven’t seen any hesitancy at all. Buyers are seeing opportunities to buy and cracking on with it,” he said.

Bidders have predominantly been those with an existing holding and adding to what they already had to spread their fixed costs.

“The fact is that local farmers are able to see the wisdom in buying it to add to their existing set-up and farm more profitability by not farming land away from the area.”

Sold in the past 12 months

Towy Valley

Towy Valley Farm at Rhandirmwyn in Carmarthenshire completed at the end of last year with Knight Frank. It has 1,784 acres with a house, buildings, hydroelectricity scheme lease option and entitlements included in the £2.65m guide price.

CKD Galbraith has just seen 400 acres of hill ground at Glenkerran, near Southend, Argyll and Bute, go under offer. It rises from 30m to 170m and has a derelict cottage. The guide price was offers over £495,000.

Cragg House Farm was one of the few Lake District hill farms to be sold this year. Situated between Kendal and Windermere, the 187-acre unit sold at auction for £1.2m with H&H Land and Property.

On the market

West Berwick farm

West Berwick Farm, four miles from Skipton, North Yorkshire, is a 310-acre livestock unit which rises from 130m to 220m and includes a house, buildings and additional income from the land rental for a telecoms mast. It is on the market with Carter Jonas at a guide price of £2.1m.