Wall Street Journal writer Jesse Newman reported last week that, “Real farmland values in parts of the Midwest fell at their fastest clip in almost 30 years during the first quarter, according to a regional Federal Reserve report on Thursday.
“Falling crop prices have weighed on land values from Kansas to Indiana over the past two years as farm income declined and investors who had piled into the asset at the start of the decade retrenched.
“Three regional Federal Reserve banks all reported year-over-year declines in farmland values in their districts and said the drops would continue, though their forecasts were based on surveys taken before the recent rally in corn and soybean prices.”
Ms. Newman explained that, “The St. Louis Fed region that includes parts of the U.S. agricultural heartland in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri reported the steepest decline, with the average price of ‘quality’ farmland falling 6.4% in the quarter, the biggest decline since its survey began in 2012 [see related graph below].
“The Chicago Fed said prices for similar land in its district fell 4% from a year ago, the seventh successive quarterly decline. Adjusted for inflation, prices in an area that includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin fell 5%, the biggest quarterly drop since 1987.
“Declines in the Kansas City Fed’s district, which includes Kansas and Nebraska, were less pronounced, but the bank said prices for nonirrigated cropland fell 4% in the quarter [see related graph below].”
The Journal article added that, “The drop in land values has been accompanied by deteriorating credit conditions, with more loans taken out to cover farm operations even as repayment rates fell on existing debt.”
Christopher Doering reported in Saturday’s Des Moines Register that, “Iowa was among the hardest hit states. Farmland prices as of April 1 dropped 5 percent compared with a year earlier, bringing the string of year-over-year declines in Iowa’s farmland to 10 quarters. During the first three months of 2016, land prices in Iowa declined 1 percent.
“The decline is forecast to continue. David Oppedahl, senior business economist at the Chicago Fed, said nearly two-thirds of the 200 agricultural bankers surveyed expect values to drop in the second quarter, with the rest predicting them to remain stable.”
With respect to cash rents (see additional background here and here), the St. Louis Fed noted that, “Table 2 indicates that cash rents for quality farmland and ranchland or pastureland also fell in the first quarter of 2016 compared with a year earlier. After falling by 9.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, cash rents on quality farmland fell by an additional 7.5 percent in the first quarter (relative to a year earlier).”
The Chicago District noted that, “In 2016, the index of inflation-adjusted farmland cash rental rates was down more than the index of inflation- adjusted agricultural land values (see chart 2). Indeed, 2016’s real cash rental rates were 13 percent below their level in 1981, whereas real farmland values were still 38 percent above their 1981 level. Given the decrease in cash rental rates was larger than that in farmland values, the spread between their respective indexes widened for the seventh year in a row. This widening gap reflected relatively stronger demand to own farmland than to lease it, as land values did not fall as much as the earnings potential of farmland (represented by cash rental rates). Greater uncertainty about the profitability of crop production likely held down bids by farmers to rent farmland on a cash basis; there were reports of some farms coming up for lease again this year after initial rental arrangements fell through. Not surprisingly, the declines in crop prices of recent years seemed to lower farmers’ expectations for turning a profit on leased acres in 2016.”
And the Kansas City Fed stated that, “Although most costs associated with agricultural production have held firm, cash rents declined for all farmland types. After remaining positive through most of 2015, ranchland cash rents dropped in the first quarter, declining 10 percent from a year earlier (Chart 9).”