Sometimes, a record price for ag land is just about the manure

Dairy Today reports that Indiana is tightening manure regulations for dairy and beef cattle producers. Starting July 1, producers with 300 or more dairy or beef cattle will be required to have 180 days of manure storage — a 50 percent increase from the current requirement of 120 days. Dairy Today also reported that Indiana will reduce the phosphorous limit over the next seven years.

People who don’t understand manure credits lack a framework for understanding how they can affect the price of farmland. As mainstream media have “discovered” the story about the rise in farmland prices, their lack of understanding of these factors has given a lot of folks a distorted view of where farmland prices really are.

The media naturally like to talk about the biggest numbers, so when they report on case in which land sold for $15,000 or even $20,000 an acre (as recently occurred in Iowa), land owners and prospective investors alike can get the wrong idea. Mainstream media (and for that matter, some ag media) just don’t understand that when you have a sale at a price that’s off the charts, there are almost always factors beyond the expected returns to be had growing corn and soybeans. Sometimes a property may have development potential, which is easy enough for reporters to understand. Just as often, it’s something like two cattle farmers needing the same piece of land so they can have more cattle on their farms.

This can be harmful in at least two ways. Prospective investors get spooked because they get the idea that prices per acre have come untethered from the fundamentals of the business, and that reduces demand for farmers who are selling. And owners of farmland sometimes fail to understand that the prices being reported are in no way comparable to the land they own. That can lead to poor decisions regarding whether to sell.