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Research: No Bubble In Booming Ag Land Values

U.S. ag land prices have increased steadily over the last decade, leading experts and landowners to question whether the high values are sustainable.

U.S. ag land prices have increased steadily over the last decade, leading experts and landowners to question whether the high values are sustainable. The short answer from the Rabobank International Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory (FAR) group is that while the land value rates aren’t a speculative bubble, a decrease in land values over several years is a definite possibility.

The FAR group’s research concludes the steady increase of ag land values over the past five years isn’t linked to speculation or other factors that traditionally lead to a bubble. However, the research does point to factors that could combine to drive a decrease in land values over the next decade. If land values do adjust down over the next 3-7 years, the reduction in value will be moderate and not a crash.

The findings are based on the FAR team’s global agribusiness marketplace report, “Blowing the Farmland Bubble." The FAR unit was created and is maintained by Rabobank to conduct ongoing research and analysis on issues of importance to agriculture around the world.

According to the report, the drivers behind the increase in the value of crop land since 2005 have been a combination of increased commodity prices, low interest rates and a limited supply of land available for sale. Over the past five years, productive agricultural land value in the U.S. has grown at an average rate between 20-70%, with the most significant growth in areas producing intensive field crops or livestock.

Co-author Sterling Liddell, FAR vice president, says a crash is unlikely because current trends in the U.S. are driven by fundamental economics and moving more heavily toward the long-term investor. “Drivers of bubbles tend to be buying and selling by speculators. The increasing presence of farmers on the buyer side of agricultural land combined with a tight supply of land available for sale provides significant evidence there is not currently a speculator-fueled bubble.”

Liddell notes that another year of strong margins combined with the anticipation of continued tight supplies should drive land prices higher for at least one or two more years. “On a longer-term basis of three to seven years, the probability of land values adjusting negatively outweighs the possibility of a continued upward trend.”

Many factors may affect the price of land over the next decade. The largest risks include the trend toward absentee farmers as land owned by aging farmers changes hands to non-farming heirs, interest rates, global commodity supply and demand,water availability and new environmental restrictions, reduced farm margins, biofuels policy and inflation.