Walking Away Farmer Style
The price of corn is at a price seen in late 2006, wheat late 2005, and soybeans 2004. Land prices, lease prices, equipment prices, and fertilizer are much higher.
This has put the squeeze on many farmers, especially those who lease land. The result is best described as “walking away farmer style”.
Please consider Rent Walkouts Point to Strains in U.S. Farm Economy
Across the U.S. Midwest, the plunge in grain prices to near four-year lows is pitting landowners determined to sustain rental incomes against farmer tenants worried about making rent payments because their revenues are squeezed.
Some grain farmers already see the burden as too big. They are taking an extreme step, one not widely seen since the 1980s: breaching lease contracts, reducing how much land they will sow this spring and risking years-long legal battles with landlords.
The tensions add to other signs the agricultural boom that the U.S. grain farming sector has enjoyed for a decade is over. On Friday, tractor maker John Deere (DE.N) cut its profit forecast citing falling sales caused by lower farm income and grain prices.
Many rent payments – which vary from a few thousand dollars for a tiny farm to millions for a major operation – are due on March 1, just weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated net farm income, which peaked at $129 billion in 2013, could slide by almost a third this year to $74 billion.
The costs of inputs, such as fertilizer and seeds, are remaining stubbornly high, the strong dollar is souring exports and grain prices are expected to stay low.
How many people are walking away from leases they had committed to is not known. In Iowa, the nation’s top corn and soybean producer, one real estate expert says that out of the estimated 100,000 farmland leases in the state, 1,000 or more could be breached by this spring.
The stakes are high because huge swaths of agricultural land are leased.
Landowners are reluctant to cut rents. Some are retirees who partly rely on the rental income from the land they once farmed, and the rising number of realty investors want to maintain returns.
One catch is that many landlords never thought to file the paperwork to put a lien on their tenants’ assets. That means landowners “can’t go grab anything off the farm if the tenant doesn’t pay,” McEowen said. “It also means that they’re going to be behind the bank.”
If grain prices stay depressed, can lease prices and land prices be far behind?
Mike “Mish” Shedlock