What a difference a year makes. Speaking to auctioneers in advance of the Farming Independent land prices survey, words like 'confidence,' 'consolidation 'and 'expansion' peppered the conversations.
Last year, the dominant sentiments were 'uncertainty', 'sluggishness' and 'decline'.
Auctioneers say the figures produced by the survey match their experience and that confidence in agriculture and particularly the dairy sector was reflected in the salesrooms. Tom Crosse of GVM Limerick says the company, which had opted to use private treaty as the preferred method for land sales in recent times, is to actively promote public auctions in the coming year.
Successful farmland auctions in 2017 saw a 20pc increase in the amount of money generated while the volume of land sold under the hammer increased by a mere 2pc.
The sale of 7,906ac under the gavels of 2017 generated €92.859m compared to €77.288m in 2016. The average price per acre for land sold at auction went from €9,990 in 2016 to €11,745 in 2017, a jump of 17.5pc. The average size of holding sold was 52ac.
The most expensive land continued to be found in the south-east where the per acre price stands at €12,729, or €984/ac higher than the national average.
The most expensive piece of farmland sold at auction was a 10.44ac parcel at Ramstown, Gorey, Co Wexford that made €620,000 or €59,386/ac in a sale handled by Warren Estates.
North Leinster saw a 15pc increase in the amount of land sold at auction with the amount generated rising by a whopping 51pc while the per acre price went up by 32pc to €12,229.
The biggest farm sale of the year took place in the region where Ballymacoll Stud in Dunboyne, Co Meath was sold by Coonans of Maynooth for €8.15m or €27,000/ac.
This auction will have skewed the figures for North Leinster somewhat given the size of the holding and the size of the sale price. However, a strong per acre price, usually associated with smaller parcels, was a feature of the market for bigger holdings.
Munster saw a decline of 1.2pc in the acreage of land sold at auction but saw an increase of 18.5pc in the amount of money generated and a 20pc increase in the average per acre price from €9,512 in 2016 to €11,417 in 2017.
Connacht/Ulster still lags behind the rest with a decline of 15pc in the amount of land sold at auction and a decline of 26pc in the money generated. The average per acre price for land decreased in the region from €8,751 to €7,621, a decline of 13pc.
The second half of the year was stronger in most parts of the country with over 50pc more land sold in the latter part of the year compared to the first six months.
In the south-east there was an increase of 73pc in the amount of land sold between July and December compared to the period between January and June. A total of 923.4ac were sold in the beginning to the middle of the year while 1,596ac were sold at auction in the last six months netting 76pc more money than was made in the first part of the year.
North Leinster saw the biggest difference between the two halves with an increase of 70pc in the amount of land sold between July and December and an 81pc increase in the money generated.
Connacht had the opposite experience with 48pc less land sold in the second half of the year and a decline of 19pc on the average per acre price. Loughrea-based auctioneer Ger O'Toole agrees that dairy farmers are the most potent force in the land market, especially for bigger land holdings, as dairying surges ahead. Munster had a very good latter end to the year with an increase of 61pc in the amount of land sold, an increase of 89pc in the amount of money generated and a 17pc increase in the per acre price.
Paddy Jordan of Jordan auctioneers saw a distinct difference between the first and second six months of 2017.
"It was a slow start to the year but there was strong finish with good prices and a string of sales achieved," he says. He added that auction is the best way to sell farmland, but cautioned that "vendors have to be realistic about their expectations to bring in the buyers".
Willie Coonan of Maynooth says owners of good land need have no fear of the auction process. "Quality land makes quality prices," he said.
Castlecomer auctioneer Joe Coogan says that while the confidence in the dairy sector is driving land sales, the crisis in the tillage sector will have an impact in the south-east with a switch away from tillage.
Many grain farmers are now carrying some stock and are harvesting their own grain to feed them.
"The price of straw has been the only lifeline for tillage farmers this year," he said.
Roscommon auctioneer John Earley says the boom in dairying is having an impact beyond the traditional dairy areas with large tracts of land being put together for milking operations in Roscommon.
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