Despite trade wars, a pandemic and what is still a five-year slump in corn and soybean prices, farmland in the Upper Midwest has mostly kept its value and one broker says he has seen a marked uptick in west-central Minnesota in the past month.
"Although we are seeing major swings in the commodity markets, the agricultural land market is still surprisingly stable," said Wendong Zhang, an extension economist at Iowa State University.
A survey of ag lenders, farm managers, Realtors and appraisers conducted by Zhang earlier in the summer showed some of the people most interested in farmland prices expected a slight decline before November, but for the cost of an acre of ground to start rising again in 2021.
A more recent report from agriculture Realtors in Iowa shows prices have been steady in 2020 amid another difficult year for farmers.
In Minnesota, farm real estate brokerage and auction house Fladeboe Land sold two farms in the past couple of weeks at more than $8,700 per tillable acre.
"Whether it lasts is yet to be determined, but we've seen particular strength in the farmland market in the fall of 2020," said Glen Fladeboe, one of the firm's second-generation owners.
The firm sells land mostly in west-central Minnesota, and Fladeboe said a recent rise in corn soybean prices, low interest rates, good yields, strong sugar beet prices and generous government assistance for farmers in the pandemic are goosing the land market.
"There's a sense of optimism right now," Fladeboe said, and that's bidding up the price of land.
Zhang, the economist at Iowa State, said the role of the Federal Reserve in lowering interest rates can't be underestimated in the land market. A Purdue University survey of farmers in the summer showed a majority are optimistic that trade conditions will improve.
Investors keen to diversify their holdings are also keeping farmland prices high, more in other states than in Iowa, Zhang said.
"There is more interest in buying farmland as part of the portfolio," he said.
Underpinning these land values, which for years have been the most stable part of the farm economy, is the farm safety net. Farmers not only have received tens of billions of dollars in coronavirus and trade-war relief, but their crop insurance is about 60% taxpayer-subsidized and farmers participate in all sorts of government programs.
Larry Aanenson, a real estate broker in Fulda in southwest Minnesota, said not too much land is for sale, but land prices there are holding steady.
"We've got a good crop coming, so we may see prices come up a little bit," Aanenson said. "The good land is in that $8,000 range."
Iowa land prices, a good proxy for southern Minnesota, ticked upward in 2019 after dropping slightly in 2018, according to Iowa State University. Data for the full-year 2020 won't be available for several months, but rents for next year are unchanged, Aanenson said.
"I'm doing leases for next year and the leases are the same as they are for this year," he said.