MORE Scottish farmland has come to the market in 2018 than at any point in the previous 10 years, land agents said at a farmers’ business breakfast meeting in Fife recently.

Farm sales agent at Strutt and Parker in Scotland, Will Dalrymple, told farmers that the market was characterised by large farms, significant regional variations in land value and continued demand from the forestry sector.

Also at the briefing, farm consultants emphasised the need to measure and monitor efficiency in order to improve performance while Strutt and Parker’s planning expert highlighted continuing government support for enterprises such as battery storage, tourism holiday lets and hutting.

Mr Dalrymple said that 46,278 acres had so far come to the market in 2018, up 43% from 32,400 acres in 2017 but more in line with the 41,100 acres offered for sale in 2016. 2018 had so far seen the launch of 118 farms, with an average size of 392 acres, compared to 83 in 2017 but 116 in 2016. He said the increase in volume was due to uncertainty and an ageing farming population.

Mr Dalrymple said: “There is strong interest in prime arable land, which continues to be in very short supply, particularly in East Lothian, Fife and Angus. Blocks of land between 50 and 100 acres tend to attract intense competition from local buyers which in some cases can drive up prices to quite remarkable levels. Demand varies significantly, depending on size, nature and location but English rollover buyers and forestry investors are still prominent throughout the market.”

Of the 118 farms which have come to the market this year, 65% have so far found a buyer, compared to 62% in 2017. He said: “The market feels a little bit congested with transactions running into the winter.”

He added that just 22% of those have concluded missives or completed, compared to 34% this time last year, although several farms have gone under offer in recent weeks. “This is a product of caution in the market. Legislation has developed; there are more elements to take into account and these draw out the process. Additionally, in a less competitive market some buyers find reasons to delay the progress of farm sales which can frustrate the transaction.”

Mr Dalrymple said: “As in recent years, we have continued to see significant regional variations in values, particularly with arable land. Additionally, there is a significant difference in the value of land that offers potential for forestry planting compared with land that doesn’t.”

Prices for arable vary from £3000 per acre in Aberdeenshire to £14,000 in East Lothian; grass leys range from £2000 per acre in Caithness to £3500 per acre in Perthshire; rough grazing ranges from £1000 per acre in Ayrshire to £2000 per acre in Stirlingshire and; hill ground rises from £200 in Inverness-shire to £1650 in Perthshire.

Looking forward, he said: “It is very difficult to predict what will happen next. However, I expect to see an increase in the number of farms and volume of land for sale, a reduction of values in marginal areas, greater disparity in regional values, ongoing buoyancy of prime arable land in the eastern arable counties and continued demand from the forestry sector.”