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Illinois land climb seen leveling off

There's been a lot of chatter lately about the leveling-off of farmland values in the coming months. New information released this week shows how far farm managers and other specialists think land prices might slip, whether or not it will unfold into a 1980s-style value meltdown, and some of the factors behind the market's current standing.

A survey conducted by University of Illinois Extension ag economist Gary Schnitkey and members of the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers shows the first half of 2013 saw an overall year-over-year increase of 2.5% to 3% for good-to-excellent land in that state, a definite slowdown from the last few years.

"These prices are not at the level of increases we’ve seen in recent years, but they are still upward," says Dale Aupperle, a farm manager with Heartland Ag Group in Forsyth, Illinois, and chairman of the Illinois Land Values and Lease Trends project.

Sales volume dips

Overall, land values ranged from $8,300 to $13,200 per acre for fair to excellent land across Illinois. The survey showed a definite shift lower in the amount of land sold compared to the first half of 2012, with late-year land sales accounting for some of that difference; 70% of those taking part in the survey said sales volume has been lower so far this year, and 77% said they expect that pace to remain or slow further.

"There was a tremendous push on land sales at the end of 2012 because of uncertainties concerning income tax treatment in 2013 and beyond," Aupperle says. "This led to a great deal of farmland being sold last year that might have otherwise been available to the market in 2013. As a result, there is still a demand for farmland but not much available for sale."

Buyers & change

The vast majority (73%) of Illinois land sold in the last 7 months has been to farmers; local investors made up 12% of the buyers, while absentee investors took 8%. Among the state's farm managers responding to Schnitkey's survey, the majority who see lower land prices in the next few months believe the slide will be slight.

"Respondents were divided in what was expected to be the price change over the next 12 months. Twenty percent expect farmland price to increase, 41% expect farmland price to remain the same, and 39% expect farmland price decreases," according to a report from the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers. "Of the 39% expecting decreases, 77% expect a price decrease from 0% to 5%."

Factors in play

Corn prices, the farm bill, ethanol and macroeconomic factors like inflation are all big variables comprising the direction of farmland values in the coming months, Schnitkey's survey reveals.

"Most likely factors of occurring are 'corn prices fall to $4.50,' 'subsidies on crop insurance are reduced,' 'Farm Bill does not pass,' and 'interest rates increased by 2%.' Factors least likely of happening are 'inflation increases by 10% and 'interest rates increase 5%,'" according to the Society's report. "If they happen, the factors indicated of having the most positive impact on farmland prices are 'U.S. economy grows 5%' and 'inflation increases to 10%.' The factors estimated to have the most negative impact on farmland prices are 'Corn prices fall to $3.50,' 'interest rates increase 5%' and 'Ethanol mandates are removed.'"

Rent effects

Though most expect land values to remain slightly higher in the coming months, Schnitkey's survey reveals the same's not true for land rents. Average rents are expected to slide by a few percentage points for the 2014 crop year; excellent quality land rented for $388/acre this year, but will likely go for $374 in 2014. Good land rented for $332/acre but will rent for $318 next year.

Cash rent agreements remain the largest share of overall rental structures (35%) though shared rents make up 25% and 14% of rented land is done so via a variable cash arrangement.

"Respondents indicated that share rent and modified share rent lease leases declined in use," according to the Illinois report. "Variable cash rent leases were the lease types with the largest increase, followed by cash rent."

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