Aug. 05--Minnesota's farmland values grew at a slower pace over the past year, and don't expect any improvements if today's weak corn and soybean prices persist.
The state's crop farmers still saw land values grow at a double-digit rate in 2014, up 11 percent over 2013 to $4,870 per acre on average, according to recently released data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But the upward trajectory of recent years is decelerating. And many farmers are looking at grain prices this year that will be below their cost of production. Farmland prices follow grain prices and farmers' profits.
"Commodity prices are down," said Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. "Corn and soybean prices are down. Input prices are up," he said referring to such necessities as seed and herbicides. Land prices "are just a reflection of the market."
Peterson, who farms in Lac qui Parle County, said the eye-popping land sales of a couple of years ago have abated. Land that went for $8,000 per acre or more would be going for about $6,000 an acre now.
In 2012, Minnesota crop farmers had a particularly good year, netting high yields and high prices. The state's cropland values in 2013 were up 17 percent over the previous year, they had risen 13 percent in each of the two years before that.
The run-up in Minnesota farmland has mirrored trends across the country as commodity prices rose at robust rates. In 2012, corn was fetching around $7 a bushel.
But with a big corn crop in 2013 -- and another one expected this year -- corn prices mostly hovered between $4.50 and just over $5 a bushel from last August through June. In the past month, prices have tanked, with the September corn futures contract currently under $3.60 per bushel.
And the cash price that corn farmers are facing in western Minnesota and North Dakota -- as low as $2.90 per bushel -- is "much more brutal," said Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo in Minneapolis. Cash prices take into account costs of grain transportation and handling.
"Very few people are making money," Swanson said. "It's going to be a very tough year."
The silver lining for some farmers: downward pressure on cropland rental prices. Cash rent on average is $186 per acre in 2014, up 4.4 percent from a year ago, the USDA says. In each of the previous two years, Minnesota rental rates jumped 18 percent.
If 2014's commodity price trends keep up, power that's been firmly in the hand of landlords will shift somewhat to renters. "Cash rents next year will be a completely different dynamic," Swanson said.
Mike Hughlett -- 612-673-7003
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