The average price of UK farmland reached a record of just over £10,000 an acre in the second half of 2014. This is 8.3 per cent up on the previous year and the 11th year in a row that prices have broken the previous record. However, the average price masks a growing gap between the price of top quality arable land and ordinary pasture.
The price of prime arable land, mainly in East Anglia, rose by 277 per cent in the decade to 2014 according to figures from Savills. These figures beat prime London property, up 127 per cent over the last decade, the FTSE All-Share index and even gold. Rumners Farm, a 560-acre North Cambridgeshire arable estate sold for about £2.75m in 2007. Now it is back on the market at £8m.
Investors are pushing up the price of the best land. Bagless vacuum cleaner magnate Sir James Dyson has been buying up land in Lincolnshire. He now has 25,000 acres, having recently purchased the 3,000 acre Cranwell and Roxholme estate. According to Mark McAndrew of Strutt & Parker private investment competition can push up the price from £7,000 an acre to £12,000-£13,000.
Investors are interested in land as a counter-cyclical safe asset. With a growing world population, food prices should rise in the long term.
Other hotspots include Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, 'Home Counties' that are within easy reach of London and appeal to lifestyle buyers who may want to breed horses.
What is curiously missing from the reports I have read is any mention of the CAP. The subsidies it provides make land a more attractive asset and push up prices. It then becomes difficult for new entrants unless they inherit, become farm managers or are prepared to start with a marginal livestock enterprise. The sector may be deprived of innovative new talent.
Rising land prices do nothing for the 30 per cent of farmers who are tenants. For dairy farmers under the cosh from falling prices for their milk they offer the prospect of a better return if they sell up as many are doing. However, their farms are rarely in the most lucrative areas.