AT A time when farmers are being bombarded with gloomy rhetoric about their industry’s prospects, it is easy to believe that the time is not right to make key business decisions – but the headlines belie underlying opportunities for buyers and sellers alike.

That was the message this week from Savills' Charles Dudgeon, as he highlighted the continued restrained supply versus demand imbalance that has supported the wide range of prices paid for farmland in Scotland last year.

“Demand has largely been driven by farmers aspiring to expand, boosted by favourable borrowing rates – indeed more farms sold by the end of December 2018 than in the previous 12 months," said Mr Dudgeon. "Farmers should take heart from evidence of the early 2019 sales which show purchasers remain keen to implement their expansion plans, almost irrespective of Brexit.”

While Brexit may not be impacting demand, it’s undoubtedly a key reason that little land is for sale. Supply is down 22% on the same period last year in Scotland, compared to a 42% drop in GB supply.

Mr Dudgeon continued: “Sellers, especially those with holdings of particular agricultural merit or offering alternative income streams, should consider taking advantage of the current constrained supply. However buyers no longer hunger after additional acres at any cost, with each purchase being carefully considered and huge disparities in prices paid as a result – in 2018 we saw prices for Grade 3 arable land vary from approximately £6000 to £14,000 per acre.”

So what does the future for the farmland market look like? Increasingly, priority is being given to a farm’s agricultural production capacity, especially its ability to grow potatoes or vegetables, potential for diversification, as well as its benefit to the purchaser’s existing holding.

According to Savills head of rural agency in Scotland, Evelyn Channing, agriculture is transitioning into a self-sufficient industry which will be less reliant on subsidies, with post-Brexit support anticipated to shift from payments for acres held, towards rewarding the green and ‘public good’ credentials of a property.

She said: “Woodland creation projects are already supported by Government targets and grant funding, so such bidders are often in a position to offer over agricultural values for planting land.

"While the future of subsidies post 2024 is still unclear, reasons for owning land remain compelling. It’s likely that those farms that offer ‘something else’ will fare as well as, or possibly better than pure commercial units, and more buyers will wish to re-purpose farmland whether for forestry, renewables, conservation, tourism or other natural capital projects – all of which are viable options throughout Scotland’s rural landscape," said Ms Channing.

"The active start to Scotland’s residential market in 2019 supports the return of stronger interest in amenity farms, where productive capacity is balanced against privacy and enjoyment of the surrounds.”

With opportunities undoubtedly on the horizon for those willing and able to take advantage of change, Savills are encouraging farmers considering selling, looking to purchase or assessing options for their holdings that they would do well to consider new opportunities, as those able to plan and adapt will be 'best placed to thrive' in the years ahead.