The agricultural land market in Northern Ireland (NI) is strong and steady, with the average price easing back last year by just 1%, or £164/ac, to sit at £13,794/ac.

It is the second highest average land price ever recorded for NI and follows on from 2022’s record-breaking figure of £13,958/ac.

While the overall average land price changed little last year, there has been some movement in the county trends. Armagh remains the most expensive county, with the average price in the Orchard County sitting at £17,601/ac.

However, Down has caught up with its average price of £17,569/ac just £32/ac behind Armagh.

The land market in Antrim soared last year with the county overtaking Tyrone to sit in third position.

The average price paid in Antrim during 2023 was £14,300/ac and the figure for Tyrone is £13,578/ac. In Derry, the average price fell by 12% to £11,402/ac and Fermanagh has a record high average price of £9,186/ac.

The market was relatively steady across all types of land, although there is evidence that prices moved on for better quality land. When ranked according to price per acre, the top 25% of land sales in NI during 2023 averaged £21,716/ac.

This is £588/ac more than the same figure for 2022. At the other end of the market, the bottom 25% of sales averaged £8,043/ac last year, which is £45/ac less than the year previous.

Smaller farms still tend to make stronger prices on a per acre basis. This mainly because there are more potential buyers for these properties and this pushes prices upwards. For example, properties that were under 25 acres in size averaged £14,531/ac last year, whereas farms between 25 acres and 50 acres averaged £13,182/ac. That said, the largest farms on offer sold for slightly stronger prices with lots over 50 acres in size averaging £13,431/ac.

The land market in NI remains well ahead of the Republic of Ireland, where the average price stood at €11,925/ac. When the NI average is converted to euro at the average exchange rate for 2023 (€1=£0.87), the north-south price differential stands at €3,925/ac.

Supply and demand

The key factor underpinning the strong land prices in NI is the extremely tight supply of land that is available to buy. Records compiled by the Irish Farmers Journal show that 11,370 acres were publicly advertised for sale in NI last year. The represents a drop of 11%, or 1,346 acres, compared to 2022 and is the smallest annual total in our dataset spanning six calendar years.

Our calculations indicate that only 0.54% of the total grassland and arable area in NI was publicly on the market for sale last year.

At that rate, a given area of land will only be available for sale once every 185 years. Overall, there were 417 agricultural properties advertised for sale during 2023, which equates to 27ac on average.

Demand is the other key market force and there was no shortage of it last year.

Auctioneers from across NI report that farmers were active in bidding for and buying farmland. There was also the usual mix of part time farmers with off farm income, as well as businesspeople with farming interests.

The job of an agricultural valuer is a tough one as there is a high degree of unpredictability in land sales. We found several examples of transactions which were agreed at nearly double the original guide price. A lack of land available to buy in a local area, neighbours that do not get along, or the presence of bidders with significant cash reserves are some the common factors that can push land sales beyond all initial predictions.

Reserve prices

That said, the opposite can occasionally happen where a piece of land is offered up and gets a subdued response from potential buyers. Land sellers tend to have a high reserve price on their property, so they are reluctant to agree to a sale price that does not meet their expectation. This means that any sales which are completed tend to be at high prices. It keeps average prices in our survey pushed up and puts a very firm floor on the market.

Unlike other parts of the UK, agricultural properties in NI are too small and too expensive for large companies to buy for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. However, one player that has re-entered the local land market recently is the Forest Service within NI’s Department of Agriculture.

With an ambitious target equivalent to 900 hectares planted in trees annually up to 2030, the Forest Service is actively buying land again. It could help push prices up further, especially for marginal type land.

Hill land averages £3,590 per acre in NI

  • In a separate survey of hill ground and rough grazing in NI, the average selling price last year was £3,590/ac. This represents an increase of £615/ac, or 21%, on 2022.
  • The top price recorded was £6,950/ac for an upland farm in Derry. The lowest price seen was also in Derry where a large block of blanket bog sold for £1,100/acre.
  • There were 2,160 acres of hill land offered up for sale across NI during 2023 – up 50% on 2022. In total, 19 separate lots of hill land were on the market last year, making the average property 114 acres in size.
  • NI land survey background

    Details of all agricultural land in NI that was publicly advertised for sale in newspapers and online during 2023 were recorded, and auctioneers were later contacted for updates.

    Only land that could be described as arable, suitable for silage, or good quality grazing was included in the main survey.

    The auctioneer’s valuation of other features such as houses, building sites or farmyards was deducted from the sale price if it inflated the per acre land price.

    We extend our sincere gratitude to auctioneers and estate agents who participated in the survey.