Agricultural land in Malta costs 22 times as much as it does in the rest of the EU, according to the European Commission’s statistics office, which said this reflected the limited availability of land on the island and the pressure for alternative uses.

New Eurostat data shows that in 2022, the average price of one hectare of arable land in the EU was €10,578. Among the 21 states for which data are available, the price of one hectare of arable land varied from a low of €3,700 in Croatia to €233,230 in Malta.

Eurostat said data for Malta reflected the limited availability of agricultural land and the pressure for alternative uses, resulting in prices higher than in other states.

The issue of a fair price for agricultural land took centre stage in recent years as farmers warned that fields were being sold off to the highest bidder as so-called ‘recreational land’.

The concern is that this not only further limits the land available for agricultural purposes, but in driving prices up, it becomes impossible for budding farmers to own their own land.

In 2021, an exercise by Times of Malta found that one tumolo of land (1,100m2) was being advertised for at least €40,000. Advertised prices spiked to €266,000 for two tumoli of arable land in Rabat and €1.5 million for three tumoli with one large room in Siġġiewi.

A repeat of the exercise the following year – and therefore the same year that Eurostat is basing its findings on – had found a similar three tumoli of land in Mtaħleb being sold for €1.5 million. In Dingli, a plot of ODZ land “ideal for recreational purposes” measuring half a tumolo with one room was being sold for over €100,000.

Farmers looking into acquiring arable land are being asked for between €80,000 and €100,000 per tumolo. This is unaffordable for most, as an average of 12 tumoli are needed to start a full-time agribusiness. Farmers make an average profit of just €200 on each tumolo of tilled land that produces three crops in one year.

In its annual report for 2022, the Planning Authority had said there has been “a noticeable increase in the subdivision of agricultural land, which is linked to the exorbitant increase in rural land purchases for recreational purposes”.

The issue even made it to the law courts, with Judge Toni Abela remarking, when presiding over a case in the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, that rural land should be valued for its agricultural yield and not its recreational potential.

According to new regulations meant to make rural leases in Malta fair for landowners and the people who till them, arable land lease should be based on the land’s agricultural value.

Malta with cheapest rent

Meanwhile, Eurostat data shows that the average price of arable land in the EU in 2022 was 45 times more than the average annual rental price of €233 per hectare.

In this case, Malta placed towards the bottom of the list: Renting one hectare of land or permanent grassland was most expensive in the Netherlands (€843 per hectare in 2022) followed by Denmark (€561 per hectare) and Greece (€486 per hectare).

Prices were meanwhile lowest in Slovakia (€57 per hectare), Croatia (€74 per hectare) and Malta (€89 per hectare).

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