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Nebraska Values Up Again, but May Reverse

March 22, 2013
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The Cornhusker State’s agricultural land markets remain strong, with an overall increase of 25% in the last year.

Despite an extreme drought and indicators of weaker agricultural earnings on the horizon, Nebraska's agricultural land markets remain strong, with an overall increase of 25% in the last year, according to preliminary findings from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Following the advances of 22 and 32% in the previous two years, the 2013 all-land value of $3,040 per acre is more than double the value in early 2010.

"Few would disagree that this period has clearly been a land boom," said UNL agricultural economist Bruce Johnson, who leads the annual Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Developments survey.

Survey reporters across the state reported percentage gains for all the farmland classes for the period from Feb. 1, 2012 to Feb. 1, 2013, but "the variation across the classes as well as across sub-state regions was extreme," Johnson said.

Drought conditions in 2012 lifted market demand for irrigated cropland, Johnson said, as irrigated land classes had the largest percentage value gains across the state.

"Income flows from irrigated land have been phenomenal in recent years, and 2012 was no exception," he said. "The combination of favorable irrigated yields while widespread drought was seen across the nation's Corn Belt fueled high crop commodity prices."

In the southern parts of Nebraska (Southwest, South, and Southeast districts) the percentage value advances for irrigated land were particularly strong over the past year.

For dryland cropland values, the percentage increases over the past year varied greatly across the state. In the Northwest and North districts, the value gains were below 10%, while reported values were more than 30% higher in the South and Southeast districts. The land class, dryland cropland with irrigation potential, shows considerable variation as well. The presence of water moratoriums across much of the state precludes irrigation development even if groundwater sources exist.

Despite the heavy toll of drought that cut forage capacity as much as 50% or more during the 2012 grazing season, grazing land value values still rose, Johnson said.

"Forage shortfalls for cattlemen may have actually caused a more spirited bidding for additional land just to maintain their cow herd numbers," he added. "Unfortunately, even if the drought ends quickly, it may be several years before grazing capacity may be able to return to pre-drought levels."

Survey reporters "frequently commented that current land prices being paid seem over-optimistic," Johnson said. "In turn, when asked what they expected land value movements to be for the remainder of 2013 as well as out three to five years, the vast majority saw a market which had topped out with little if any upward movement in the near future.

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