Down on the farm for the (lucrative) good life

MOST of us have days when the fresh air and slower pace of country life appeals. Days when we would rather watch wheat sway in the breeze than its future price move on a Bloomberg terminal. This need not be a pipe dream though. It’s not just the wheat product’s price that is rising at the moment, the fields themselves are growing in value. The value of farmland rose by almost 3 per cent in the second quarter of 2011 and is now just under 7 per higher than it was 12 months ago. Better still, farmland, like forests, is free from inheritance tax and excluded from your capital gains allowance after two years of ownership, making it a thoroughly worthwhile long-term investment.

The lifestyle benefits need not to be preached. Sarah Southern, who grew up on a farm near Northumberland, says that she doesn’t think there’s a downside: “Some people say it can be quite lonely, but my family live just three miles from the local town, so it’s hardly a problem.”

Life on the farm is now seducing more bankers than ever before. Andrew Pearce, a rural expert at Chesterton Humberts, says: “Around bonus season every year we see hundreds of City workers looking for their slice of the country life. Some are after a straightforward lucrative investment; others are simply hankering after a beautiful home and the good life.”

Hobby farming doesn’t have to be too difficult to get into. Charlie Dewhirst grew up on a working farm in East Yorkshire. He now lives in London, says: “If you’re not worried about making a profit, farming really isn’t too difficult. The internet can teach you a good deal of what you need to know.” But if you want to take it more seriously, he explains, there are plenty of courses and many people learn from their neighbours.

If you’re only interested in the lifestyle, but not necessarily in farming, don’t rule yourself out, says Davina Bell, Savill’s head of rural. “Often City types will buy a farm and then appoint a professional site manager.” Bell assures me that hiring professionals doesn’t mean losing money: “Obviously it depends on your land and your circumstances, but these arrangements do break a profit – people wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

Choosing a great farm investment isn’t too tricky. There are essentially two markets to play for: the seriously lucrative land investment market where your best bet is to look for a site with as much good quality land as possible. The other is the market aimed at the lifestyle buyer where the quality of the farmhouse is the most important consideration.

Farmland is doing really well as a financial asset at the moment. Knight Frank’s research team is saying that it is more rewarding than some of the classic safe havens such as gold and core prime central London property. Pearce says that the general shortage of good quality farms and the introduction of large numbers of Danish and Irish buyers into the market means the price is set to keep steadily climbing.

With these sorts of incentives, buying a farm looks more tempting. But beware you could end up like the Dewhirst and Southern families, passing the house on from generation to generation. Both have now owned their farm for almost a hundred years.