Non-farmers bought more than half of the farms and estates sold on the open market in England in 2023, according to Strutt and Parker’s Farmland Database.

Farmers accounted for the lowest level of transactions on record, making up 44% of open market transactions in 2023 with non-farmers making up 56% of the sales.

Non-farmers are a mix of private and institutional investors who also tend to buy bigger farms and larger areas of land, according to the property consultancy.

Private investors were involved in 28% of transactions and lifestyle buyers in 16%. Institutional investors were involved in 13% of sales which is a rise of 10% on 2022 levels.

Head of estates and farm agency for Strutt and Parker, Matthew Sudlow, said the growing role of non-farmers has proved to be a ‘defining feature’ of the farmland market in recent years.

“What we have seen over the past 12 months is that farmers have understandably become more cautious because of a combination of higher interest rates, falling support payments, cost pressures, and the impact of some horrendous weather conditions,” he said.

“Meanwhile, investors and lifestyle buyers continue to see farmland as an attractive and safe long-term investment.”

Mr Sudlow said that while non-farmers are more active in the marketplace this does not necessarily mean that the land in question is being taken out of food production.

“Many of the farms and estates continue to be productively farmed, and we know that some of their new owners are placing more of a focus on regenerative farming techniques and improving biodiversity,” he added.

“Although there has been lots of media attention about land being bought for tree planting, the acreage involved in England at the moment is still tiny.

“Context is everything when it comes to looking at trends.”

The total amount of land bought and sold each year typically represents less than 1% of the total agricultural land area, Mr Sudlow said.

“So even if the amount of land being bought by green investors is growing, it still represents a tiny percentage of the total land area.

“The reality is that most agricultural land continues to be in the hands of farmers despite what looks to be a significant shift in buyer types.”

Strutt and Parker’s Farmland Database shows overall that demand was slightly weaker in 2023 than in 2022.

However, high prices have continued to be paid for best-in-class properties, pushing up average values, the consultancy said.

The average price of arable land in England rose by 4% between 2022 and 2023, with an average price paid of £11,300/acre.

Over 70% of the arable land traded in England during 2023 made more than £10,000/acre.

There was a much greater variability in pasture prices with prices ranging from £4000/acre to £16,100/acre, with an average of £8700/acre.

Analysis of the database shows that supply on the open market was slightly lower in 2023, at 75,500ac, than in 2022, but it was the second highest total in the past five years.

Once off-market sales are factored in then it is estimated that well over 100,000ac were available, which is the highest acreage for a number of years, Strutt and Parker said.