CHICAGO — A year-over-year gain of 5% in agricultural land values, the smallest gain in three years, was reported in the third quarter of 2023, according to a survey.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Agricultural Newsletter also reported the values of “good” farmland in the district overall increased 1% from the second to the third quarter, according respondents from 173 banks.
The Seventh Federal Reserve District includes the northern two-thirds of Illinois and Indiana, all of Iowa, the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
“Indiana led the way with a year-over-year gain in farmland values of 16%; Illinois and Wisconsin had year-over-year growth in farmland values of 6% and 9%, respectively,” said David Oppedahl, Chicago Fed policy adviser and newsletter author.
Growth in Iowa’s farmland values was stagnant in nominal terms. An Iowa banker expressed surprise that “farmland has not retreated in value.”
In contrast, one Wisconsin banker cited “competition among large dairy operations” as the impetus for pushing farmland values higher there, and another noted that “nonfarm investors continue to push land prices higher.”
An Illinois banker reported that “crop yield are surprisingly very good; however, net farm income levels will be lower than 2022 due to lower commodity prices.”
Despite a widespread drought across the district, corn and soybean yields for its five states in 2023 dipped just a bit from 2022 and stayed close to their historically highest levels, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
With timely rains in many areas, both corn and soybean yields for the five district states in 2023 were the fourth highest of all time, according to October USDA data.
Similarly, the USDA forecasted the five district states’ harvest of corn for grain and their harvest of soybeans in 2023 to be the fourth largest on record for each crop, with corn increasing by 0.5% and soybeans decreasing by 5.6% from their respective 2022 harvests.
With large harvests projected for 2023 in district states and elsewhere, the price of corn in September 2023 was 27% lower than a year ago. Likewise, the price of soybeans in September of this year was 7% lower than a year earlier.
In October, the USDA released price forecasts for the 2023-2024 crop year of $4.95 per bushel for corn and $12.90 per bushel for soybeans.
So, when calculated using these price estimates, the projected revenues from the district states’ 2023 combined corn and soybean harvest would be 20% under the record level of 2022, though still third highest in nominal terms, after the annual revenues of the previous two years.
“Furthermore, the USDA price index for livestock and animal products was down 3% in September 2023 from a year earlier. Compared with a year ago, average prices for eggs, hogs and milk in September 2023 were down 54%, 11% and 13%, respectively,” Oppedahl said.
“In contrast, September cattle prices were up 27% from a year earlier. Even so, lower overall livestock and crop revenues, combined with higher farm interest rates, likely put a damper on farmland values.”
Agricultural credit conditions for the Federal Reserve District softened in the third quarter of 2023. Agricultural interest rates — in both nominal and real terms — jumped higher during the third quarter of this year.
As of Oct. 1, the district’s average nominal interest rates on new operating loans (8.5%) and feeder cattle loans (8.47%) were at their highest levels since the second quarter of 2007. Its average nominal interest rate on farm real estate loans (7.7%) was last as high in the second quarter of 2007.
In real terms, after being adjusted for inflation with the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index, the average interest rates on farm operating loans and feeder cattle loans were last higher in the third and fourth quarters of 2009, respectively. The average real interest rate on farm real estate loans was last higher in the fourth quarter of 2015.
For the July through September period of 2023, repayment rates for non-real-estate farm loans were about the same as a year earlier.
“Collateral requirements for loans in the third quarter of 2023 were up somewhat from the same quarter of last year, as 10% of the survey respondents reported that their banks required more collateral and none reported that their banks required less,” Oppedahl said.
In the third quarter of 2023, the district saw weaker demand for non-real-estate farm loans compared to a year ago, marking the 13th consecutive quarter of such softer demand.
An Iowa banker shared that he thought “the land market would be softening, but we still haven’t seen that yet.”
“On net, little change was expected regarding district farmland values in the final quarter of 2023,” Oppedahl said, noting 13% of survey respondents anticipated them to rise, 72% anticipated them to be stable and 15% anticipated them to fall.
“However, some softening in demand for agricultural land and, therefore, lower farmland values may be ahead in 2024. There were more survey respondents who expected farmers and non-farm investors to have weaker demand to acquire farmland this fall and winter compared with a year earlier than those who expected these groups to have stronger demand. On the whole, respondents anticipated a dip in the volume of farmland transfers during this fall and winter relative to a year ago.”
Net cash earnings, which include government payments, for crop and dairy farmers were expected to be down during the fall and winter from their levels of a year earlier, according to the responding bankers.
For crop farmers, 12% of survey respondents forecasted net cash earnings to rise over the next three to six months relative to a year ago, while 79% forecasted these earnings to fall.
For dairy farmers, 2% of survey respondents expected net cash earnings to increase over the next three to six months relative to a year ago, while 45% expected these earnings to decrease.
The Fed District’s cattle and hog operations were expected to do better, with 38% of responding bankers forecasting higher net cash earnings for cattle and hog farmers over the next three to six months relative to a year earlier and 32% forecasting lower such earnings.
However, this positive news was primarily for the beef sector given higher cattle prices and lower hog prices.
Of the responding bankers, 12% predicted a lower volume of farm loan repayments over the next three to six months compared with a year earlier, while 6% predicted a higher volume.
“Still, forced sales or liquidations of farm assets owned by financially distressed farmers were expected to be nearly flat in the next three to six months relative to a year ago, as 8% of the responding bankers expected them to increase and 10% expected them to decrease,” Oppedahl wrote.
Non-real-estate and real-estate farm loan volumes of the survey respondents’ banks were generally anticipated to be lower in the October through December period of 2023 than in the same period of 2022. The lone exception was the volume of operating loans, which was expected to be higher.
With regard to this last survey result, an Illinois banker offered one possible explanation: “We will have producers storing ‘23 crop for better prices next spring, but needing funds for ‘24 inputs.”