Non-farmers bought more than half of the farms sold on the open market in England in 2023, with farmers accounting for the lowest level of transactions on record.
The significance of private and institutional investors in the agricultural land market has been confirmed by new figures from property consultancy Strutt & Parker.
Farmers accounted for only 44% of open market transactions in 2023 when historically they have tended to be involved in 50-60% of purchases.
Meanwhile, non-farmer buyers – who are a mix of private and institutional investors and lifestyle buyers – accounted for 56% of sales.
And because they also tend to buy larger farms, they bought a larger area of land than farmers too, according to Strutt & Parker.
Private investors were involved in 28% of transactions, institutional investors in 13% - a rise of 10% on 2022 levels - and lifestyle buyers in 16%.
“The growing role of non-farmers has proved to be a defining feature of the farmland market in recent years,” said Matthew Sudlow, head of estates at Strutt & Parker.
“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.
"Meanwhile, investors and lifestyle buyers continue to see farmland as an attractive and safe long-term investment.”
While non-farmers are more active in the marketplace, Mr Sudlow said this does not necessarily mean that the land in question is being taken out of food production.
Many of the farm continue to be productively farmed, and some of their new owners are placing more of a focus on regenerative farming techniques and improving biodiversity.
Mr Sudlow 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.
"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 & Parker's Farmland Database records the sale of all farms, estates and blocks of publicly marketed land in England over 100 acres in size.
It shows overall that demand was slightly weaker in 2023 than in 2022, with interest becoming more variable in some regions, leading to a slightly lower percentage of farms and estates selling at or above the guide price.
However, high prices have continued to be paid for best-in-class properties, pushing up average values.
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, according to the Farmland Database.
There was a much greater variability in pasture prices, because grassland can differ so much in terms of quality, with prices ranging from a low of £4,000/acre to a high of £16,100/acre, with an average of £8,700/acre.
Analysis of the database shows that supply on the open market was slightly lower in 2023, at 75,500 acres, 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 100,000 acres were available, which is the highest acreage for a number of years.