MULTIMILLIONAIRE "lifestyle" farmers like Michael O'Leary have helped push land prices to the highest in Europe.
New figures show that Irish farmland is the most expensive in the continent at a hefty €60,000 a hectare.
The average price here is 10 times the value of land in Scotland and six times the cost of a hectare in Scotland.
Farm prices soared by 40pc during 2006 and estate agents predict a further 12pc growth in the Dublin commuter belt this year.
Farmland still lags far behind the outragous price tags of up to €125m a hectare for residential land in Dublin city centre or around €70m a hectare in Dublin 4. As a result, risktaking developers are also putting pressure on prices by snapping up land in agricultural zones in the hope it will be rezoned for residential or commercial use.
Estate agents said the growth in farmland prices has been heavily fuelled by wealthy businessmen who might only visit their country estates at the weekend.
They can easily afford to splash out up to €5m on a new farm - half what they might spend on a city pad in Dublin 4.
Traditional farmers in lucrative counties in Dublin's hinterland, including Meath, Louth and Kildare, have been tempted by their big money offers to sell up and move abroad.
They have relocated as far afield as Argentina but can also pick up bargains in Scotland and in England. Recent research revealed that 3pc of farm buyers in the UK are Irish.
The owner of a 40-acre farm in Kildare worth €2m could buy a 260-acre farm in Perth with a big Georgian house and still have enough change to buy a flat in Dublin.
Estate agent Savills Hamilton Osborne King said having a country estate has become as much of a status symbol as having a shop on Grafton Street.
Head of research Derek Brawn said many businessmen prefer to keep their private retreats a secret. High-profile farmers include Ryanair boss and Gigginstown estate squire Michael O'Leary and Sunderland chief Niall Quinn.
"These farmers include businessmen like Michael O'Leary, who has prize Angus cows," said Mr Brawn. "A lot of people of stature who have money want to have farms and horses and stables. It's almost like a trophy asset. They can have a private jet and helicopter but also want to have the country estate and farm.
"A lot are hobby farmers and have another income source. Many of them might like the idea of living on the farm at the weekend, and some farms have airstrips and golf courses.
"A lot of these high network business people can afford €8 or €9m for a house on Ailesbury Road and think nothing of spending €3 or €4m to be a lifestyle farmer. The former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey did the same thing at Kinsealy."
© Irish Independent
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