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'Upsizers' dominate farmland market

FARMING 'UPSIZERS', often from England and Ireland, are increasingly active on Scotland's farmland market, where economies of scale make them powerful buyers.

James Butler
James Butler

According to Strutt and Parker's James Butler, no-one in Scottish farming would remember 2012 as a vintage year, but despite the horrible conditions, both economic and meteorological, there was no sign of everybody selling up and getting out.

Instead, he reported that farmland supply remained tight, and only available to buyers with healthy wallets. Demand, he predicted, would continue to outstrip supply, and 2012's main legacy would be an extra premium for land able to cope with wet weather.

"Farmers tend to be a resilient bunch and even with such a tough year, it wasn't enough to convince them all to start selling up," Mr Butler told 150 delegates at Strutt and Parker's Scottish property seminar in Edinburgh, this week.

In fact, he said, there were several factors making farmers reluctant to sell – historically low bank borrowing rates, some fairly robust farmgate prices, uncertainty over CAP Reform and the basic lack of any more attractive options for reinvesting the cash.

"Supply remained low with 23,000 arable and pasture acres entering the market," said Mr Butler. "This equates to 40% less than the average since 2000. Specifically, only 15 farms in excess of 500 acres were launched and six of these were upland farms. Also, only four dairy farms were marketed publicly."

Against that background, there was still business to be done, he said: "Our team had a particularly busy 2012, selling 42% more farms than the previous year. Margins in farming are becoming tighter but land values remain strong – in fact, in the last half dozen years, the value of farmland has doubled – how many assets can you say that about?"

Mr Butler pointed to the example of Chapel Mains Farm, an arable and stock-rearing farm in Lauderdale offered for sale in seven lots or as a whole for offers over £3.8m, which generated 33 viewings before an English agri-businessman pre-emptively offered a significant premium to secure the whole.

"For the out and out farmers, economies of scale are key today, resulting in demand for both extensive units and blocks of bare land next to their existing holding. A lack of subsidies available for constructing farm buildings has made well-equipped farms more popular.

"Active farmers still dominate the market, with upsizers benefitting from economies of scale, to the fore. They often come from outwith Scotland, in particular from England and Ireland, as they can get more land for their money."

Mr Butler said there will still challenges, from bad weather to uncertainty over CAP reform and the independence debate, but added: "The agricultural industry is volatile but I do believe that there is a brighter future for agriculture in the long run.

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