Land is still top of the property pops, say Knight Frank, whose latest Farmland Index shows English farmland values rising by 3.1% in the second quarter of 2009, following three consecutive quarters of falling prices. ‘Compared with other investment and property sectors [opposite page], farmland has remained relatively unscathed by the economic downturn, with investors and farmers both believing that the outlook for the agricultural sector is positive, and that the current fall in the price of some commodities is a temporary “blip” in a long-term bull run,’ Knight Frank maintain.

This view is echoed by other leading agents, including Savills, who recorded ‘a degree of growth’ for all sectors of English farmland, with greatest demand for arable land, especially in the East of Eng-land, the East Midlands and the South-West. With fewer acres being offered for public sale in the first half of 2009 compared with the same period last year 65,000 acres against 69,000 in January June, 2008 a shortage of stock has been a major factor in underpinning land prices.

An analysis of land sales handled by Savills over that period showed farmers as the key players on both sides of the equation, representing 62% of sellers and 60% of buyers. Retirement, death and debt were the main reasons for sale, and expansion the main reason for purchase, accounting for 43% of all transactions, compared with 32% in 2008.

Although the credit crunch has reduced demand from non-farmer buyers, especially those buying for the first time, they have by no means disappeared, Savills say. Certainly, the interest shown recently by buyers (farmers and non-farmers alike) in farms and estates with a strong residential element, suggests that the lifestyle buyer is still out there, although these days he’s probably driving around in a Land Rover rather than a Lamborghini.

Having sold the 1,700-acre Wansdyke estate near Hungerford, with a 500-cow dairy unit, a good main house and nine cottages, to an English farmer for more than £5,000 an acre in May, Savills in Salisbury followed this up with the sale in early June of the 700-acre Manor Farm at Ashington, near Yeovil, Somerset, to another UK farmer, for nigh on the £6.5 million guide price.

Mid May saw the launch in Country Life of Blackdowns Farm near Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, with 210 acres of land and a Georgian farmhouse in need of updating, at a guide price of £2.25m through Savills in Oxford. After 75 viewings and 15 bids from farmers, developers and others, the farm was sold for ‘well over’ the guide price to a private buyer who plans to make his home there.

In one of the biggest estate sales of recent years, Strutt & Parker oversaw the discreet disposal of the late Maj Jim Philipps’s Dalham Hall estate, with 3,300 acres of farmland, park and woodland, and 39 houses and cottages, to Darley Stud Management for an undisclosed price. Strutts also handled the rapid sale in May of the historic, 1,224-acre, mixed farming and shooting Rushford estate near Thetford, on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, for more than the £10m guide price.

Earlier this month, Carter Jonas announced the sale of the 2,000-acre Aldwark estate in the Vale of York on behalf of Bristol-based charity the St Monica Trust. The estate was sold in a combination of different lots, including Haddocks Farm, a 460-acre arable and livestock farm and the only lot offered with vacant possession, which fetched more than its £4.5m guide price; a portfolio of 14 let houses and cottages was retained by the charity. Another recent sale notched up by Carter Jonas was the 330-acre Compton Grove Farm near Wetherby, which sold for ‘substantially more’ than its £1m guide price, after ‘spirited bidding’ by a number of private investors.

With little sign of an early upturn in the supply of landed properties coming to the market, cash-rich investors who are also homebuyers will have to compete with farmers for the foreseeable future. Andrew Harwood of Knight Frank in Tunbridge Wells (01892 515035) has seen a flood of enquiries for picturesque Heaseman’s Lodge Farm near Crowborough, East Sussex, which came to the market in recent weeks with a guide price of £1.75m.

The secluded 65-acre farm sits at the head of its own private valley on the edge of Ashdown Forest, and has a four-bedroom stone farmhouse, a stone coach house and barns with potential for conversion, stabling and various agricultural buildings.

Savills in Exeter (01392 455755) quote a guide price of £1.3m for pretty, 156-acre Powlesland Farm, near Spreyton, Devon, which has been owned and farmed by the Powlesland family for more than 700 years. Centred round a Grade II*-listed, three-bedroom, late-medieval farmhouse, it has modern and traditional outbuildings, a superb block of arable and pasture land, 2.7 acres of woodland, and is for sale as a whole or in three lots.

Brand new to the market, also through Exeter, is the ring-fenced, 130-acre Luxton Barton, near Bondleigh, Devon, which has a five-bedroom Georgian farmhouse, a three-bedroom holiday cottage, traditional buildings with planning consent for conversion to holiday accommodation, and
a range of modern farm buildings. It’s also being offered as a whole or in three lots, at a guide price of £1.7m for the whole.

Another recent entrant with room for improvement is the 101-acre Top Farm on the outskirts of Hargrave village in Northamptonshire, which comes fresh to the market through Carter Jonas (01604 608210) at a guide price of £950,000. For sale as a whole or in five lots, it includes a five-bedroom farmhouse in need of ‘complete refurbishment and modernisation’ and various outbuildings suitable for conversion.

Pristine, 229-acre Great Westfield Farm near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, is about as far from the madding crowd as you can get in these isles. For sale through Edward H. Perkins (01437 760730) and Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282) at a guide price of £2.3m for the whole, or in three lots, the model mixed arable and stock farm comprises a Grade II-listed, eight-bedroom, Georgian stone manor house, a holiday cottage, extensive equestrian facilities and modern agricultural buildings.

Fortunately for owners of shooting estates, whose value is underpinned by the strength of interest and expectation for UK agriculture, the demand for classic sporting estates remains strong, with supply limited, says Mark McAndrew of Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282). He’s currently selling the scenic, 1,048-acre Scrainwood sporting and farming estate in a spectacular part of the Coquet valley, in Northumberland, at a guide price of £4m for the whole.