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Reversal in US farmland prices gathers pace

The reversal in US farmland prices gathered pace, with the market showing its worst performance for more than three years, undermined by weakness in agricultural commodities.

Farmland prices, which declined in December for the first time since 2009, extended their pace of decline this month, Creighton University said, after a survey of lenders in leading agricultural states from North Dakota to Illinois.

A price index "plunged" to 43.8, below the 50.0 level indicating a neutral market, and last month's 47.0 figure, and representing the lowest reading since October 2009.

Crop price drag

The decline reflects the reversal in crop prices, which saw Chicago wheat futures fall 22% last year and corn futures tumble 40%.

"As agriculture commodity prices have moved lower, so have farmland prices," Creighton economics professor Ernie Goss said.

The weakness had spread to the farm equipment market too, which recorded an index figure of 41.0, also the weakest since October 2009.

The fall in crop prices "has significantly reduced farmers' willingness to undertake major agriculture equipment purchases".

Professor Goss highlighted that low crop prices were not a negative for all farmers, with lower grain prices, coupled with improved hopes for consumer spending, meaning that "ranchers and livestock producers are experiencing record prices and a very healthy economic outlook".

However, land prices fell in both livestock-focused states, such as Wyoming, as well as Midwest cropping powerhouses such as Iowa, for which the price index tumbled to 38.1 from 52.3 in December.

'Slight decline'

The survey is the second this week to highlight a slowdown in the US farmland, after heady rates of price growth over the last five years or so.

Farm Credit Services of America, part of the government-linked Farm Credit System agricultural lender, on Wednesday said that a review of 3,500 deals in four states - Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming suggested that "the market for farmland is levelling off and in some areas softening".

Mark Jensen, senior vice-president at Farm Credit Services of America, said: "There's evidence that farmland prices may be on a slight decline from record highs seen at the end of 2012 and for most of 2013."

While prices in Iowa, the top scorn and soybean producing state, had risen by 3.4% overall in 2013, that disguised a fall of 2.8% in the last half of the year, the lender said.

Iowa values had fallen 3.3% quarter on quarter in the October-to-December period if remaining nearly double their price five years before.

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