More farms were sold in April than in any single month since July 2008, the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) says, with a significant increase in sales of dairy support blocks in the South Island as farmers prepare for winter grazing.

A total of 152 farms changed hands in April, the most since 154 in July 2008. The preceding three April months - 2010, 2009 and 2008 - saw 103, 108 and 264 sales, respectively.

REINZ rural market spokesman Peter McDonald said there had been rising confidence in the rural sector for some months now and this, along side high commodity prices, was now translating into greater confidence in buying farms, especially in the dairy support sector.

"There has been something of a turnaround in farm sales during April particularly with grazing and dairy support properties in the South Island," McDonald said.

Good levels of interest were coming in from investors suggesting finance was becoming "a little easier" to secure.

"The rural property market has been very quiet for the past two years but it is too early to tell whether this lift in activity is merely 'catching up' or the beginning of a more sustained trend in farm transactions," McDonald added.

In the three months to April there were 290 farms sold compared with 190 sales in the three months to March 2011 and 267 sales in the three months to April 2010.

Most of the sales increase came in the South Island with Canterbury, Otago and Southland accounting for half the national increase in sales, the REINZ said.

All regions, apart from Wellington, recorded an increase in sales between March and April with no regions reporting a decrease in sales.

The number of farms sold in the year to April was 918, up from 869 for the year to March, and higher than the 909 sold in the year to April 2010.

The April month saw 24 dairy farms sold at an average sale value of $29,153 per hectare and NZ$34 per kilogramme of milk solids (MS).

The average farm size was 177 hectares and the average production per hectare across all dairy farms sold in April was 863 kgs.

Grazing properties accounted for the largest number of sales with 48.3 per cent share of all sales in the three months to April.

Dairy properties accounted for 17.9 per cent, finishing properties 13.1 per cent and horticulture properties 9.7 per cent.

Between them the four property types comprised 89 per cent of all sales during the three months to April.

- INTEREST.CO.NZ