Uncertainty about the future is something that has always existed. All the challenges presented by COVID-19 in recent months have added additional layers of uncertainty and change to our world. You know what hasn’t changed? The rural countryside turning green again. It is really nice to see! This visual reality is just one of a handful of things that helps root me with a perspective of, and expectation for, the future.
In agriculture, we are conditioned to expect uncertainty. We never know what the weather will be more than a few days out. From a marketplace perspective, we rarely have more than an educated estimate of what things will look like a year from now. This is what makes major, long-term decision-making so difficult. However, we work to inform ourselves by reviewing our past experiences and outcomes, mixed with what we can see and reasonably expect from the future. It isn’t a perfect recipe. But in agriculture, we make significant decisions based on that mix of imperfect and incomplete information.
So, what do we know today about the short term in 2020 agriculture? Certainly, commodity prices have been pressured because of worldwide demand destruction. COVID-19 has specifically impacted ethanol demand and production, which consumes nearly 40% of our U.S. corn crop. COVID-19 has also specifically impacted livestock demand, production and processing. Like ethanol, livestock demand impacts another 40% of our corn crop. In the short term, while COVID-19 keeps consumers at home, it is causing disruption and pain for participants in all these markets.
What about longer term? I believe the prospects are much brighter. We came into this disruptive and painful period with a very healthy marketplace. Remember, across the state of Iowa more than 80% of all land is owned mortgage-free. So, we aren’t likely to see an overwhelming need to sell land to cover mortgage payments or other cash-flow needs in a tight or negative margin period.
Secondly, crop insurance pricing levels for 2020 crop production were set in February, which was before the corona crisis hit. And while neither the $3.88-per-bushel guarantee for corn nor the $9.17-per-bushel guarantee for soybeans is record-setting, people may come to appreciate that baseline support.
Land market holds steady
Next, long-term interest rates remain at or near all-time lows. For big decisions that are made for the long term — like buying a farm — being able to match favorable interest rate terms to the decision impact is very helpful. Lastly, as someone with a farm production background, I maintain a positive outlook about our collective ability to survive and, ultimately, thrive. Similar to past disease outbreaks (e.g., polio), I’m very confident that our medical community will rise to the occasion and develop a vaccine that will help us pull COVID-19 out by the roots.
The ag industry is presented new challenges and uncertainties every year. Some challenges can seem bigger than others, and COVID-19 is an enormous challenge for our 2020 growing season and marketing year. However, it’s also important to keep a proper perspective. This challenge, while momentous, shall pass. And even in the face of gathering storm clouds in the form of low commodities, ethanol weakness and livestock sector disruptions, the farmland market is largely keeping its collective head about it, as recent farmland sales reflect.
Sioux County. Southwest of Maurice, 80 acres sold at public auction for $12,800 per acre. The farm has 75 tillable acres with an 85.5 CSR2, which equals $160 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Franklin County. Near Hampton, 233 acres sold for $9,465 per acre. The farm has 220 tillable acres with a 90.8 CSR2, which equals $110 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Black Hawk County. Located north of Orange and within Waterloo city limits, 71 acres sold for $12,000 per acre. The farm has 69 tillable acres with an 86.4 CSR2, which equals $143 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Crawford County. Northeast of Deloit, 155 acres sold for $7,350 per acre. The farm has 138 tillable acres with a 72.7 CSR2, which equals $114 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Story County. North of Nevada, 240 acres sold for $10,500 per acre. The farm has 238 tillable acres with an 87.5 CSR2, which equals $121 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Benton County. Southwest of Urbana, 182 acres sold for $9,600 per acre. The farm has 172 tillable acres with a 79.3 CSR2, which equals $128 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Cass County. Southeast of Atlantic, 80 acres sold for $7,890 per acre. The farm has 72 tillable acres with an 81.0 CSR2, which equals $108 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Warren County. Northwest of Lacona, 114 acres sold for $3,100 per acre. The farm has 100 tillable acres with a 41.2 CSR2, which equals $86 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Washington County. Northeast of Washington, 153 acres sold for $7,448 per acre. The farm has 120 tillable acres with a 77.1 CSR2, which equals $123 per CSR2 point on the tillable acres.
Hensley is president of Hertz Real Estate Services which compiled this list but did not handle all sales. Visit hertz.ag.