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Land price slowdown speeds up as non-farmers quit

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The slowdown in the land market in prime US wheat-growing country gathered pace as an asset class which has already enjoyed huge gains over the past decade proved less popular with buyers from outside agriculture.

Ranchland values even slid into a quarter-on-quarter decline in the October-to-December period, according to data from the Federal Reserve's Kansas City bank, covering states including Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Cropland values rose, but by an average of only 1% quarter on quarter, well below rates of some 7% in October-to-December periods from 2010-12.

"Cropland value gains slowed dramatically in the fourth quarter," said the bank, adding that farmland markets in the region "may have begun to cool".

On an annual basis, 2013 showed the weakest growth in three years.

'Sharp slowdown'

The "sharp slowdown" came despite a drop in the amount of farmland up for sale, a factor which in theory should have been supportive for the market.

However, while farmers "continued to be the primary buyers", interest from investors from outside the sector has waned.

The share of land purchased by non-farm buyers fell to 24% last year from 37% in 2007.

The revival in world economic growth has meant many other assets performing better, and competing more strongly for investors' attention.

Cost pressures

For farmers themselves, extra land offers the chance to spread fixed costs in the face of falling crop prices, although prices of many other inputs remain buoyant.

Lenders surveyed by the bank "noted that while fertilizer costs had declined 17% from their peak in May 2013, prices of other crop inputs had not adjusted.

"In fact, seed prices continued to climb and have doubled since 2007. Though more volatile, fuel costs have remained at a historically high level for almost two years."

With farm profitability under pressure, a "growing number" of lenders surveyed "felt that farmland values had topped out and could retreat from high".

The proportion of respondents forecasting lower land prices rose to 16%, compared with 1% at the end of last year.

By Agrimoney.com

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