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'Banks seem to be finding excuses to refuse farmers'

Auctioneers have warned that the land market could be left in limbo through 2010 unless the banks were willing to provide finance for farm purchases.

Land sales bucked the property trend over the past 12 months but auctioneers warned that the market remained extremely weak.

The average cost of farmland sold under the hammer during 2010 was €8,420/ac, which was just €380/ac off the 2009 figure.

The market was certainly helped by the recovery in farm incomes. Provisional figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed that farmer incomes had increased by 46pc compared to 2009. This was driven primarily by higher milk, cereals and sheep prices.

Even so, auctioneers pointed out that the land market had weakened through the second half of 2010 as the economic uncertainty deepened.

One of the major concerns voiced by estate agents was the absence of credit. Auctioneers maintained that tighter rules had resulted in farmers being refused loans for land pur- chases and this was strangling the market.

"Farmers just can't seem to satisfy the banks' needs. The banks seem to be finding every sort of an excuse to refuse loans," Roscommon auctioneer John Earley maintained.

This view was supported by Mullingar auctioneer Paul Murtagh. He said farmers were annoyed and frustrated by the attitude of the banks and their refusal to provide finance.

"The land market is in limbo at the moment because farmers are not getting loans and this will not improve until the finance situation is sorted out," Mr Murtagh said.

"We were told NAMA would free up money but it didn't. Everybody is just hoping the IMF package will do the business," he added.

The Mullingar auctioneer said the land market had weakened considerably as the year progressed.

"Land was making around €10,000/ac at the start of the year. It ended up at between €3,000 and €7,000/ac. It was a tough struggle to sell places in the second half of the year."


John Earley said land prices in the west ranged from €5,000/ac to €7,000/ac, with the value depending on the quality of the ground, location and the size of the farm.

"If you have €5,000/ac then you generally have a deal, it takes local interest to push the price past €6,000/ac, €7,000/ac is exceptional," Mr Earley explained.

Carlow auctioneer Matthew Conry said small parcels of ground in the county had made between €10,000 and €12,000/ac during 2010. Larger parcels made between €8,000 and €8,500/ac.

The market has also held firm in west Cork. Clonakilty-based auctioneer John Hodnett said most farms made between €10,000 and €12,000/ac but more had been paid for exceptional holdings.

Mr Hodnett accepted that the availability of finance remained a serious concern but he predicted that land price should hold through 2011.

One of the notable features of this year's market was the high number of sales in the commuter belt around Dublin.

Nineteen farms, comprising 800ac, were sold at auction in Meath, 472ac went under the hammer in Wicklow, while 1,007ac were sold in Kildare.

The increased number of sales would suggest that not only have the builders and speculators left the market but some also offloaded properties during 2010.

Indo Farming