Land market in wheat states outperforms corn areas

Growth in cropland values stagnated in the US winter wheat belt, underperforming a rise in ranchland prices, while extending a decline in the Corn Belt, where lenders are braced for a further falls.

The Federal Reserve, the US central bank, said that cropland values in central Plains winter wheat states such as Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska "generally held steady" in the April-to-June period.

The rate of appreciation came in at less than 1% quarter on quarter, with the rate of year-on-year price rises coming in at 6% for both irrigated and non-irrigated land.

For watered land, this represented the slowest rate of annual price growth in four years, and came as rains replenished soil moisture after longstanding droughts in Kansas and Oklahoma, reducing the advantage of irrigation.

Cropland vs ranchland

It was ranchland, which has lagged cropland in price growth over most of the last seven years, which showed the strongest appreciation this time, with values rising by more than 2% quarter on quarter and by a little more than 9% year on year.

The trend of ranchland outperformance, supported by a rise in cattle prices to record highs as better pasture condition encourages herd rebuilding, looks set to continue.

"Current trends in farmland values were expected to continue for the rest of the growing season, with cropland values holding at high levels and ranchland values rising further, " the Fed said.

Price falls

However, separately, the Fed's St Louis bank, which covers parts of major row crop states such as Illinois, Indiana and Missouri, reported falls in values of both pasture and higher quality land.

The price of so-called "quality" land averaged $5,473 per acre, down 0.4% quarter on quarter and by 3.5% year on year.

For ranchland, the rate of decline came in at 7.4% quarter on quarter, and by 2.5% year on year.

However, looking ahead bankers surveyed for the St Louis Fed report were evenly split on prospects for values of ranchland or pastureland, but showed a small majority forecasting a drop in prices of quality land.

Impact of crop price falls

The data come amid increasing evidence of low crop prices taking a toll on growers' profitability, and therefore on their willingness to spend, with machinery group Deere & Co on Wednesday cutting its profits target because of soft demand.

The Kansas City Fed reported that while credit conditions at agricultural banks "remained sound", it highlighted some signs of weakening farm finances.

"Following the sharp drop in crop prices in late 2013, some bankers noted a dip in farm loan repayment rates," the bank said.

"The largest declines have been in states heavily dependent on crop production, particularly Nebraska."

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