Helping ag students learn to value farmland

“What will my farm bring?”

That is one of the most difficult questions I hear from people who are trying to decide whether to offer their farmland at auction. Markets are constantly changing, and no two farms are exactly alike. That’s why I’ve enjoyed watching the annual competition among agricultural management students at Parkland College. For the past few years, members of the agricultural management class have conducted appraisals of property set for an upcoming Murray Wise Associates auction.

This year, our firm decided to make things even more interesting by offering a $1,000 scholarship to the student who comes closest to the actual sale price.

This year’s winner was Blake Kinkelaar, a 26-year-old from Seymour who spent five years in the Marines and decided during his tour of duty that he wanted to be a farmer. He returned from active duty and now has a seven-acre farm where he grows fruits and vegetables.

Larry Thurow, now professor emeritus, taught the class for years, and current instructor Nick Eisenmenger asked him to come back to help with the annual project, which gives students a rare opportunity to check their performance against the real-world auction results.

This year, 26 students took part in the competition. Each had to look at recent sales of comparable land in the area and assess various market factors — which this year included a sharp drop in corn and soybean prices. Another wrinkle is that the 160-acre farm being appraised was irrigated.

Blake’s appraisal of $11,334 was very close to the $11,100 sale price. And for the record, it was a good bit closer than my own estimate and those of several of the professionals on our staff.

With the scholarship covering $1,000 of his education, Blake will have a little extra cash to cover expenses around the farm. I’m proud of these students, and of the good work Eisenmenger, Thurow and the other faculty members are doing to prepare them to be better farmers.

Congratulations, Blake!