Like a sad automaton run by a malfunctioning computer programme, as soon as a board is erected declaring “Farmland for sale” anywhere near my farm I’m interested.
Although I’m perfectly well aware that the current grossly inflated price of farmland lost all touch with the economic realities of farming nearly 20 years ago, I still get a thrill at the thought of buying a few more acres.
The last time I bought any land (80 acres) was way back in 2001. Since then I have made several attempts to buy more but each time have been beaten off by other buyers with deeper pockets. I have now been a hopeless also ran for the past 17 years. But it has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for land ownership.
I think local land agents know this because every time a parcel comes on the market I receive an unsolicited mailshot containing the sale particulars and a handwritten note “Stephen – thought this might interest you” written on the accompanying complement slip.
Each time I read through such literature the glowing adjectives “well drained,” “fertile loam,” “good road access,” “useful set of farm buildings” have the desired effect on me. As I read I imagine driving my combine harvester across these newly acquired broad acres. A tractor, driven by one of my daughters, pulls alongside and she gives me a confident nod that is a signal for me to switch on the offloading auger to fill the grain trailer she is hauling behind her with the bountiful wheat crop. But then, of course, I get to the line of the particulars that reads: “Offers in excess of £xxx,xxx are invited for the freehold” and all this fantasy turns to dust.
There used to be a time when I would ring up land agents and politely thank them for sending me the property details. Rather less politely I would then invite them to “call me back when you’ve come to your senses on the price.” They always did call me back but only to inform me gleefully that the land had sold quickly and at a level considerably exceeding the asking price.
I don’t make those calls anymore. I still read the particulars before getting to the inevitable ever more ludicrous asking price. Since 2001 (when I made my last land purchase) the latest Savills farmland index shows that UK farmland has grown by a compounded eight per cent per year which has had the effect of more than trebling the average price of land over that time.
But, despite all of this, nothing stops me tearing at the envelopes franked with the land agents’ logos and devouring the property details contained within. Mine is a chronic condition with no known cure but, I think, it is common to most farmers.