BY the beginning of July, the Scottish farmland market is normally in full swing but as we all know, 2020 has not been a normal year.

As per usual, winter wheat is waiting for sunshine to ripen, spring barley is coming into ear and the second cuts of silage are well underway and one would expect there to be a healthy supply of acres for sale on the open market.

However, according to Savills, both due to Covid-19 and equally ongoing Brexit negotiations, the supply of farmland in Scotland is just one fifth of the past five year average for the first six months of the year, and down 71% on 2019 at just 4761 acres – the lowest recorded supply in living memory.

The GB supply is 52% less than 2019 and is represented by a total of 250 units totalling just 36,584 acres, with 66,434 acres advertised in Scotland alone for the same period in 2000. That's the scale of the market reaction.

The average size of farm offered to the market so far in 2020 is 146 acres, 100 acres less than the average unit in 2010. This suggested the disposal of off-lying parcels for cash, or the recognition that to be viable post-subsidy one must be operating at scale.

Land agents, Savills, believed that, as a consequence of Covid-19, interest may be boosted in smaller units from non-farming buyers. They have seen a surge in interest for country living following lockdown with urban and city dwellers seeking more space, both outdoors and indoor with access to good internet connections which negate the necessity to commute daily.

For instance, the number of London-based enquiries for Scottish rural property has increased by 71% since lockdown. However, the supply statistics do not reveal the level of off-market activity that has been going on.

Savills said it had been handling private sales totalling more than 2000 acres of quality farmland, equating to almost half the total supply advertised on the open market. Such activity illustrates confidence in the market.

One example was the private sale of Wester Kilmany, in north-east Fife, which was agreed before there was an opportunity to place on the open market. Evelyn Channing of Savills Farms and Estates, explained: “Wester Kilmany is typical of the style and scale of unit which is particularly attractive in the current climate. Its strategic location adjacent to the A92 combined with its extensive cold storage facility, will help to future-proof its ability to generate income. Diversified income will be key to future prosperity."

The forestry market also demonstrated resilience throughout the pandemic. There had been an insatiable demand from a number of institutional, corporate and private buyers for forests and planting land, although there has been little on offer in respect of the latter.

As a result, values for both have risen steeply and lower grade farmland with planting potential may be worth three times more to a forestry buyer than to a farming buyer. For any upland farmer considering an exit, this could be the silver lining to some of the dark clouds that have been hanging over the livestock industry, said a Savills spokesperson.