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US cropland prices to ease - but will not be marked by 'distressed sales'

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US cropland prices may see a further "modest" decline, but the market will not be marked by "distressed sales", Farmland Partners said – adding that it intended to keep buying into the easing market.

The company - whose portfolio is centred on row crop land in the Midwest and Mississippi Delta - said that regions focused on major crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat would see a "gradual decline in land values" ahead.

The prospect of easier prices reflected the worsened financial prospects for farmers.

"The leading drivers of farmland value are farmers themselves, and as their profitability as operators is hurt, they become less acquisitive therefore drying-up some of the demand," said Paul Pittman, the Farmland Partners chief executive.

The US Department of Agriculture forecasts that net farm income will fall for the third consecutive year in 2016, down 12.5% to $64.3bn.

'No distressed sales'

However, the pressure was not forcing "any significant number of distressed sales".

"We don't anticipate seeing those sort of distressed sales," Mr Pittman said.

"What happens in the farmland markets is when the economy is tough in a given region in the country for agriculture, you will see flat to very modest declines in land values until it recovers."

While acknowledging talk of price falls of as much as 10%, he said that "no one doing a really broad survey of land values in any region of the country is finding any double-digit declines at all.

"It is actually rare to even find high-single digits" in terms of the rate of percentage decline in values.

Last month, the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries reported farmland values dropping by 0.2%, quarter on quarter, in the July-to-September period, the first decline in its data in six years.

'Rabbit through the python'

Mr Pittman, who forecast that Farmland Partners' own land portfolio would see a "gradual increase" in values in 2016-17, said that the market conditions had not put the group off extending its purchasing spree which has lifted its portfolio well above 100,000 acres.

"You should expect to see us continue to be very acquisitive as a company," he told investors, if adding that this rate of purchases would be slowed temporarily by the need to complete its tie up with rival American Farmland.

"I think what you should expect is that we will have a slightly slower fourth quarter than you might have expected.

"We obviously are a very acquisitive company, but when we digest the transaction of the scale of American Farmland, it's a little bit like the rabbit through the python.

"So I would expect us to be as acquisitive, probably not the same rate you might have seen last year."

By Tanya Ashreena

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