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Ag land value up 32.5%

The average value of Iowa farmland is estimated at $6,708 per acre for 2011, an increase of 32.5% from 2010. This is the highest percentage increase ever recorded in the annual statewide survey by Iowa State University. Results of the 2011 Iowa Land Value Survey were released in December. It was conducted in November.

Ag land value up 32.5%

The average value of Iowa farmland is estimated at $6,708 per acre for 2011, an increase of 32.5% from 2010. This is the highest percentage increase ever recorded in the annual statewide survey by Iowa State University. Results of the 2011 Iowa Land Value Survey were released in December. It was conducted in November.

The increase matches results of other recent surveys of Iowa farmland — such as the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank’s estimated 31% increase in Iowa land values. The Iowa Chapter of the Realtors Land Institute conducts a survey every six months statewide, and it shows a similar rise for 2011. The 2011 values are historical peaks.

Key Points

Record set in 2011 for average value of farmland in Iowa.

Farmland values are highly linked to gross farm income.

Prices should be strong near term; longer term is uncertain.

“The 2011 ISU survey covers one of the most remarkable years in Iowa land value history,” says Mike Duffy, Iowa State University Extension farm management economist who runs the survey. “This is the highest percentage increase ever recorded by our survey, and the average land value of $6,708 per acre, when adjusted for inflation, is at an all-time high.” The previous inflation-adjusted high was in 1979.

While the statewide average price is $6,708 per acre, some individual sale prices for farmland recently have been eye-popping, including a record $20,000 per acre for 74 acres in Sioux County.

Strong demand for land

Duffy says most sales do not involve auctions, but when economics and emotion collide in a land sale, sometimes the bidding gets very strong.

“There is currently a strong demand in Iowa for farmland,” notes Duffy. He says the increase in land values this year has been fueled by sound fundamental factors, including low interest rates and an increase in global demand for commodities. The ISU survey shows 74% of the land buyers in 2011 were farmers.

Scott County in eastern Iowa, with an estimated $9,223 average value for all farmland, saw the highest percentage increase and highest increase in value, 37.7% and $2,524, respectively, of Iowa’s 99 counties. However, O’Brien County farmland at $9,513 is the highest average county value recorded by the survey. Looking at the state by crop reporting district, the Northwest Crop Reporting District, which includes O’Brien County, has the highest land values at $8,338 per acre, a rise of $1,983, or 31.2%, from 2010.

“This rate of increase in 2011 has led to concerns that farmland may be the next speculative bubble,” says Duffy. “Some people feel farmers are setting themselves up for a fall similar to the 1980s. Without a doubt, it’s an interesting time and something to watch, but it isn’t a time to panic.”

Driver: commodity prices

Farmland values are highly correlated with gross farm income, he notes. As gross farm income rises, so will land values. In 2005, corn prices averaged $1.94 per bushel in Iowa. The estimated price for November 2011 is $6.05. Soybean prices changed from $5.54 to $11.40 over the same period.

There has been considerable variation in commodity prices over the past few years, but net farm income has increased substantially and is projected to rise even more for 2011. This increase in income has been the primary cause for the rise in farmland values, but not the only one.

“There are other causes for the rise in farmland values in 2011,” Duffy says. “Interest rates are at the lowest level in recent memory. Farmland purchased by investors went from 18% in 1989 to 39% of purchases in 2005, but investor purchases decreased this year to 22%.”

Where else to invest?

Another factor is the relatively dismal performance of the stock market. People want to buy farmland, or they’re not selling it because they don’t know where else to put their money. The increase in farm income, changes in investor demand and changes in investment alternatives have all led to a volatile market.

One area of volatility is in the number of sales. Land value survey respondents have shown considerable variation over the past few years when queried about the number of sales.

Sales decreased considerably in 2009 and improved somewhat in 2010. Based on survey results reported in 2011, most people are seeing more sales or at least a similar number of sales in 2011, relative to 2010.

One difference is in the use of auctions; survey respondents noted what appears to be a rapid increase in the use of auction sales. Preliminary analysis of 2011 sales data shows an increase in price by using an auction. As one said, “Economics may get the person to the auction, but emotion often leads to the purchase.”

Duffy believes farmland values should remain strong for the next several months at least. Beyond that, there’s a fair degree of uncertainty with respect to whether land values can maintain their current levels. There are several key things to watch:

the amount of debt incurred with land acquisition

government policies, especially policies related to energy

what happens to input costs — land being the residual claimant to any excess profits in agriculture

performance of the overall economy, especially with respect to income

governmental monetary policies as they relate to inflation and interest rates

performance of U.S. and world economies, which impact commodity prices that, in turn, impact land values

weather-related problems here and around the world

Maps showing 2011 land values, percentage changes and comparisons to 2010, along with additional information from Duffy, are available at

Overview of 2011 Iowa land

Looking at land values by county in the 2011 survey, the highest were reported in O’Brien County in northwest Iowa. Decatur County in south-central Iowa has the distinction for the second year in a row as having the lowest reported land value, at $2,721 per acre, and the lowest dollar increase, of $636 per acre. Washington County has the lowest percentage increase, 28.2%, with a reported $7,166 average value.

Low-grade land in the state averaged $4,257 per acre and shows a 26.8% increase, or $900 per acre, for 2011. Medium-grade land averaged $6,256 per acre, and high-grade land averaged $8,198 per acre. The lowest land value and smallest percentage increase were in south-central Iowa, $3,407 and 26.7%, respectively. The southwest district had a 36.5% increase, the highest district percentage reported.

The Iowa Land Value Survey began in 1941 and is sponsored by the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station at Iowa State University. Only the state average and the district averages are based directly on the ISU survey data. The county estimates are derived using a procedure that combines survey results with data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The ISU survey is sent to licensed real estate brokers and selected individuals considered knowledgeable of land market conditions. The 2011 survey is based on 487 usable responses, providing 642 county land value estimates. The survey is intended to provide information on general land value trends, geographical land price relationships and factors influencing the Iowa land market. It isn’t intended to provide an estimate for any particular piece of property.


“I’m neither a pessimist nor am I overly optimistic regarding land price prospects. There is a lot of uncertainty, and I’m trying to be realistic. I don’t see 30% rises in land values again next year, but I also don’t see a collapse.” Mike Duffy, ISU Extension economist

This article published in the January, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.

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