Land sales remain strong, auction levels high

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Land sales finished strong in 2013, spurred by good farmer demand for additional land, according to Farmers National Company, a leading farm and ranch real estate company.  Farmers National Company is reporting record real estate sales of $750 million for 2013, compared to $640 million in 2012.

Activity during the first half of 2013 slowed slightly because of a surge in sales at the end of 2012 prompted by tax law changes. However, sales levels turned upward to round out the year and finished strong, according to Randy Dickhut, AFM, vice president of real estate operations of Farmers National Company. He notes that trends indicate an active pace will continue through the first half of 2014 for most regions.

Within Farmers National Company's 24-state service area, there has been continued widespread auction activity at year-end. Farmers National Company real estate agents worked 45 auctions during November alone. Out of 829 properties sold by Farmers National Company in 2013, over 40 percent sold at auction.

While land prices have stabilized compared to the double-digit price increases seen in recent years, levels are at historical highs. Prices per acre for high quality land range nationwide from $3,500 to as high as $12,000 to $13,000 per acre in areas of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. Values in the Upper Midwest are also very strong with sales reaching $10,000 per acre.

"Farms remained profitable in 2013 despite lower commodity prices, in part due to reductions in fertilizer expenses of nearly 30 percent," said Dickhut. "This is prompting farm owners to continue buying premium land to expand their operations. Interest in average to medium quality land has waned, slowing activity for such property."

Prices for pasture land have increased in places like Nebraska as Texas livestock producers transplanted herds due to recent drought. As regions in Texas continue to recover from the drought, land values there are forecast to rise 5 percent to 7 percent, according to Dickhut.

A price drop of 40 percent for sugar beets has impacted land values in the Northern Region (North Dakota/South Dakota/western Minnesota). Income reduction of nearly $350 per acre in some cases is taking some land buyers out of the market. Despite this pressure, values are fairly stable in this area, Dickhut said.

Farmers continue to be the primary land buyers. Dickhut reports that investor interest in land has been more guarded as many are not willing to pay high prices without a guaranteed strong return. Recent success in the stock market is generating interest in alternative investments, pushing outside investors to choices besides land.

"The market for farmland overall remains strong, particularly for quality land even though buyers are getting more cautious," said Dickhut. "The impact of changes in commodity prices, expenses, and interest rates will all play into year-end results."


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