The latest Herron Todd White (HTW) rural report shows there is an increasing demand for Northern Rivers farm land. Rural lifestyle lots, particularly close to beaches and towns, are highly sought after.
The report highlights the number of Northern Rivers farms with buyers who work off-farm and subcontract management to full-time professional farmers. Many of these properties are not viable businesses on their own, but are a lifestyle choice for new owners, with income supplemented by outside employment.
Existing macadamia farms are a popular choice for these buyers. Such farms, without existing house and sheds, may be found below $1 million but the market below $1.5 million is tight if the property has a reasonable house, sheds, some plant and equipment and a mature macadamia orchard of a minimum of ten hectares.
Paul O’Keeffe, the HTW valuer commented, ‘At present, ten hectares of mature macadamia orchard, whilst quite profitable at current commodity prices if operated well, is not considered a viable stand-alone operation. The market for viable stand alone operations exceeds $2 million. There has been capital growth in recent years as the commodity price and the rural residential property market has firmed.
‘Listings of Northern Rivers macadamia farms are limited, and sales data indicate a price of $75,000 to $100,000 per mature orchard hectare excluding structural improvements, crop, plant and equipment and balance land, with the top end of the range expected to have very good presentation, row spacings, production and verifiable history of production.’
Sugar Cane on the Wane
“Other horticultural products of interest include blueberries, avocados, nurseries etc. However, in general terms, $1.5 million would be a minimum purchase price for a viable operation, allowing for seasonal fluctuations in prices and conditions.”
Many sugar cane farms are being converted from sugar to macadamias. BPS has witnessed such conversions on the coastal flatland north of Ballina. Long term buyers are land banking, converting sugar to maccas for the increased yield, and then betting on capital growth in the future as demand for lifestyle properties grows. The report notes that on current commodity prices, sugar cane farms are not particularly profitable.
‘The macadamia purchasers have paid over $20,000 per hectare for some cane land, so this is a logical point of capital gain. Dairy farm sales are very few. Beef cattle grazing sales are common and there are many entry-level build up style blocks that can start from relatively low value levels below $500,000,’ O’Keeffe said.
Byron Shire Council and the NSW Agricultural Protection Zoning ended unregulated subdivision of farm land some time ago. This SEPP stipulates that large rural lots can only be subdivided to a minimum of 100 acres (40 Ha). In 2017, Byron Council, and other Northern Rivers shires, co-ordinated the E-zone policy, which aims for existing natural habitat to be retained and hopefully connected. (Think of the hugely successful Koala Connections program which provides free seedlings for landowners to reforest sustainable koala habitat, with the aim of connecting to adjacent habitat.) Supporting such initiatives provides the potential of achieving three things at once: a productive and profitable region for food production; rural residential development opportunities without sacrificing productive farm land; and growing and expanding natural habitat for indigenous flora and fauna.
If you own or live on a Northern Rivers farm, you could consider the following:
- access the Council E zone mapping. See if it is possible to work with neighbours to join together stands of high value, old growth forest on your land;
- if you wish to expand your existing old growth areas professionally, you can contact a number of forest regeneration companies;
- consider leasing available spare land for the growing of produce;
- reconsider owning cats or dogs. If you do own a companion animal, ensure it is tied up or kept inside at night;
- keep your property free of invasive pests and weeds.