Like everything this spring, the land market is finally catching up, writes Richard Thomas of BTF Partnership. There has been general uncertainty, dare I say largely due to Brexit, but the publication of the government’s Command Paper which can be commented on until 8 May, should start to give a little more confidence and a better feel of the direction for the sector in the future. Farmers effectively now have a six-year period of greater certainty and should be reassured that if they enter into a new Countryside Stewardship Scheme before March 2019, they won’t be unfairly disadvantaged. BPS 2019 will be on the same terms as it is now.
This puts farmers and landowners in a slightly better position to prepare for the future than other industry sectors and there is expected to be further government investment into the rural community for ‘technology, skills, infrastructure (such as mobile phone and internet coverage), public access and rural resilience.
Farmers and landowners should now be reviewing all their farm operations, identifying the natural capital assets they have and deciding how best to use them in the future. This may involve the sale or acquisition of land and the further diversification of farm operations.
We have received some significant instructions this spring and are now seeing some large parcels of land and farms coming to the market. Highlights include:
- Court Lodge Farm, a substantial arable farm in Kent’s North Downs with 428 acres of arable and pasture land, 186 acres of woodland, farm buildings with development and a renowned shoot with a guide price as a whole of £4.55m.
- The Beachborough Estate near Folkestone, available to let on a six-year business tenancy consisting of 743.18 acres of Grade III agricultural land and woodland separated into six separate blocks.
- The Green Farmland, Lower Shorne has also just been launched to the market and extends to approximately 180 acres of Grade I agricultural land in the heart of the North West Kent Market Garden belt suitable for combinable crops as well as onions and potatoes.
- Land at Pullen Farm, Frittenden, which comprised 130.57 acres of agricultural land, recently received significant interest and good offers to put forward to the client.
There are several smaller parcels of grazing and arable land across Kent and Sussex which we are also marketing and traditional residential and grassland farms suitable for continued use or with equestrian potential. These include Huggetts Farm near Mayfield, a four-bedroom Victorian farmhouse with 65 acres.
Also for sale is an exciting opportunity presented by Kelsey’s Farm, a diversified and productive smallholding in the Cray Valley on the London/Kent borders with farm shop, restaurant, indoor adventure play centre, B1/B8 units, farmhouse, camp site and 25.12 acres Grade I land.
BTF is selling land for development. Recently sold is land at Smarden with outline planning for up to 50 houses, 20.40 acres of land at Hoo St Werburgh, near Rochester with outline planning permission for 127 houses and a 10 acre site at Hempstead with planning permission for 44 houses.
Individual barns and redundant farm buildings are also attracting significant interest and we have been instructed to sell several across the region with planning permission for conversion to residential.
Underpinning the land buying market is still farmers, accounting for around 60% of sales, with rollover funds to reinvest and those looking to expand existing farm operations with the ability to fix AMC money at historically low rates. Overall land values remain strong across the region, especially with the added benefit of ‘land marriage value’ and are still largely being driven by location.
A quick word on the land rental market, nationally arable land rents dipped towards the end of 2017 but were up 4% on an annual basis. Average pasture land rents slipped during the last six months of 2017, equating to a 1% annual decline.