Ag Economy: “Financial Stress is Building”

DTN special correspondent Elizabeth Williams reported this week that, “Cautious — that’s what the farmland brokers and rural appraisers termed their mood last week at the spring meeting of the Iowa Realtors Land Institute. It may look like business as usual as planting begins, but beneath the surface, financial stress is building in farm country, Iowa Concern Hotline director Margaret Van Ginkel with Iowa State Extension would add.

“The hotline, established in 1985 during the farm financial crisis, has seen an increase in call volume this spring. ‘Questions concerning tax consequences of selling machinery or land, what if they stop making payments on machinery, worries about whether a farm operation can support two or three generations. The vulnerability is there,’ Van Ginkel said.”

The DTN article explained that, “Iowa is a bellwether state for agricultural stress, given its rapid run-up in farm incomes, land values and cash rents during corn’s 2008-12 glory years. Some lenders think the commodity fall will be harder here. One sign is that Land Institute members think the state’s farmland prices tumbled 5% on average over the last six months, according to its March 1 survey. Since 2015, Iowa land values have fallen 8.7% across the state with top-quality cropland decreasing from $9,516 per acre to $9,146, the survey found.”

Ms. Williams also noted that, “Cash rents have softened a little, Iowa farm managers and rural appraisers reported at their statewide meeting, but rents are still strong in some areas. Waverly banker Willemssen said cash rents in northeast Iowa are still in the $300- to $400-per-acre range.”

Meanwhile, a news release from North Dakota State University this week stated that, “North Dakota land values declined for the second consecutive year in 2015. This follows an 11-year period (2003 to 2014) in which cropland values averaged an annual increase of 15 percent, the strongest sustained run-up in cropland values in the past 100 years.”

The release added that, “Based on the survey, North Dakota average cropland values declined about 4 percent during 2015. Swenson noted that a report by the North Dakota Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers indicated a greater decline, 9 percent, for 2015.”

With respect to the implications of the tightening financial outlook, Reuters writers Tom Polansek and Karl Plume reported this week that, “North Dakota farmer Randy Thompson plans to apply 30 percent less nitrogen fertilizer to his corn this year to save money in the face of crashing crop prices.

“In Minnesota, Andy Pulk is trucking crop nutrients to his farm from 350 miles (563.3 km) away because he found a better price than his local cooperative could offer. He has also halted purchases of machinery.”

The article noted that, “With more acres than ever before likely to be planted with soybeans and corn in the U.S. Midwest this year, companies including seed maker Monsanto Co and fertilizer seller CF Industries Holdings might have expected a windfall for earnings.

“But with grain prices near five-year lows and farm incomes at their lowest levels since 2002, growers are tightening their belts by reducing spending on everything from fertilizer to seeds to chemicals.”

And, Jacob Bunge and Lisa Beilfuss reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Monsanto said profit tumbled in its latest quarter as the St. Louis-based maker of Roundup weed killer continues to grapple with an unfavorable agricultural market.

“The company is struggling with a sharp downturn in the U.S. farm economy and pressures in overseas markets. U.S. farmers’ incomes are projected to fall to their lowest level since 2002 after grain and oilseed prices sagged for three straight years due to a string of bumper harvests. The strength of the U.S. dollar has meanwhile made Monsanto’s products more expensive overseas.”

The Journal writers pointed out that, “In its latest quarter, Monsanto’s revenue from seeds and genomics, its biggest business, fell 8.6% as sales of most seed types declined. Sales in its agricultural productivity segment slid 30% to $715 million.”

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