BLOCKS and farms on the slopes of south-central New South Wales are changing hands at a rapid pace, and buying interest is trending towards existing agricultural landholders from points east and south.
They include Victorians, South Australians and those from the inner slopes and tablelands of southern NSW, who see value in loamy country with a long history of cropping and grazing.
Most listings from Cowra to Temora and West Wyalong and beyond are spending little time on the market, and Ray White West Wyalong director Oscar Freeman said country with a cropping focus is setting new benchmarks.
Examples include Dunbar, a 246-hectare block at Temora which retiring vendors Garry and Debbie Block sold in February for $17,683/ha to neighbours Rob and Amanda Russell at auction through Ray White West Wyalong.
In a similar vein was the 658ha Elambone at Greenethorpe, which sold in April for $15,000/ha via Cowra-based LAWD agent Ian Robertson to a South Australian-based farmer already with country in the Gooloogong district.
Elambone was sold by Rodney Wright, a Woodstock-based mixed farmer with additional country at Trundle, to allow a consolidation of existing operations.
Elambone was marketed as having well-nourished soils, yields in recent years averaging 4.2 tonnes/ha for wheat and 2.1t/ha for canola, and an annual average rainfall of 623 millimetres.
Its quality improvements include sheep yards, and around 3000 tonnes of permanent grain storage.
West of Grenfell, and close to Temora, annual average rainfall drops to below 550mm, and below 500mm in the wider West Wyalong region, and land values step down accordingly.
However, all price strata have risen on the boom of recent years.
Lower end holds appeal
Lower-rainfall outer slopes country is still in hot demand, with the proximity to domestic consumers in the Riverina including Baiada’s poultry mill at Hanwood and export pathways in Victoria and Port Adelaide being part of the trade-off.
Mr Freeman said two good harvests which followed three drought years, where country listed for as little as $2500/ha often failed to attract an offer, have fuelled the turnaround at a local level.
“We’ve had two bumper seasons, and if there’s another good crop…quality farms will keep selling,” Mr Freeman said.
Recent sales at the lower end of values include a 290ha block of Goodenough at Ungarie for $5925/ha or $2400/acre sold in March by Nutrien Harcourts West Wyalong, while west of Grenfell at Piney Range, LAWD sold the 259ha Hillview to buyers with country near Canberra for $6178/ha or $2500/ac.
“In this whole central west, if you can put an air seeder through it, you’re not getting much for less than $2000 an acre,” Mr Robertson said.
Mr Freeman said growers were waiting for the season to consolidate before considering entering the market in spring as buyers or sellers.
“This time of year is quiet.
“No-one wants to commit to buying a farm until they know they have a crop.
“I think it will ramp up in the next six to eight weeks.”
Mr Freeman said indications are that outside buying interest will keep coming from Victoria and southern NSW.
“They’re all pushing north.
“I do a lot of lease country…and the interest on that is coming from the south too.”
He said some locals were keen to expand, but have been startled by the jump in land values.
“A lot of local farmers can’t get their heads around it doubling in two and a half years.”
Mr Freeman said further hikes in interest rates might bring more vendors to the market if term deposits becomes a more attractive option for the conservative investor looking for somewhere to park farm capital.
Agents generally see the market as consolidating at current levels for now at least.
“I do believe we are at the summit of where prices are at the moment, but that’s still very strong,” Mr Robertson said.
“Two years ago, $4000 an acre for dryland farming was considered very good money; now high-value agricultural land around Cowra is $6000 an acre.”
Mr Robertson said expansion from people within and beyond the district was still occurring.
“You’ve got to get more efficient, and expanding your area is one way to do it.”
Agent Rob Anderson of Raine & Horne Grenfell, formerly C.J. Anderson & Co, said there was “quite a strong interest from the locals”, but investment was also being seen from graziers and mixed farmers from the tablelands and inner slopes.
As interest rates rise, and input costs as well as commodity prices remain high, Mr Anderson said local farmers were careful about not overborrowing.
“Local farmers… know what that country can produce; they come up with a price and that’s what they’re prepared to pay and no more.”
“The market has levelled out a bit.”
Mr Anderson said some vendors are pitching above the market, and buyers now are not as likely to pay the asking price as they were last year.
“Their places are still there.”
Miller & James, Temora, managing director Angus McLaren can also see a steadying in values, and a prevailing interest from producers based in regions where land is significantly dearer.
“There won’t be big increases of the past 24 months again, but I don’t think there’s any downside,” Mr McLaren said.
“It’s always cheaper the further west you go; if you have to pay $8000-$10,000 an acre to expand where you are, and you can pay $2000-$3000 an acre somewhere else, that option looks pretty attractive.”
Brigadoon to test interest
The auction on September 9 of Brigadoon at Wirrinya is set to test the market for red and grey loam mixed-farming country when it goes to auction with Miller & James.
The 721ha property has been in the Uphill family since the 1950s, and vendor Steve Uphill said he plans to sell up to “put a full stop” on his farming career and give himself and his wife some time to travel.
Brigadoon includes 330t of silo storage plus a 350t grain shed, an 8ha jojoba plantation, a shearing shed and a substantial home, and has run a Merino flock with its winter-cropping program.
Excessive rain interrupted planting of the 2022 crop across NSW, and Mr Uphill planted a reduced area this year which totals 60ha each of wheat and canola.
“The grey country you can get on to a bit quicker after the rain than the red, but the red is better in the dry years, so it’s good to have the mix,” Mr Uphill said.
Brigadoon is a reliable producer of malting and feed barley, wheat and canola, with feed barley often selling direct to feedlots or dairies.
“You can go a lot of different places with your grain from here, and we’ve got some storage too if we want to sell it direct.”
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