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Iowa Farmland Ownership

July 29th, 2013

Contributed by Mike Duffy, Extension Farm Management Specialist, mduffy@iastate.edu.

duffyFarmland is the major resource for Iowa.  Who owns the land and how it is farmed determines what kind of agriculture we have across the state. Every five years Iowa State University does a survey to examine the ownership of Iowa farmland.

The Iowa farmland ownership survey examined land ownership as of July 1, 2012. The final report (Farmland Ownership and Tenure in Iowa, 2012 – publication PM 1983 revised) will be available in the coming months.

One of the interesting aspects of the 2012 survey is that it shows the changes in land ownership patterns over a boom period. The last ownership survey was done in 2007 and during the intervening five years Iowa farmland values more than doubled going from $3909 per acre to $8296. This increases rivals any similar time period.

The latest Iowa farmland ownership survey is compared to previous surveys dating back to 1982, during the time when farmland values first started collapsing after the boom of the 1970s. Looking at the various surveys over the past 30 years shows some of the changes in farming technology, demographics and other patterns. The 2012 survey also shows the impact of the current land boom on these trends.

Iowa farmland is increasingly in the hands of the elderly.  In 2012 30 percent of Iowa’s farmland was owned by someone over the age of 75 years old. The percent of land owned by people in this age category had been steadily increasing since 1982, when 12 percent of the land was owned by someone over 75 years old. The trend towards increasing age does appear to have been slowed by the boom. There are younger owners although they represent a small percentage of the acres. Over half, 56 percent, of the farmland in Iowa is owned by someone over the age of 65.

Another trend that seems to have slowed is the percent of land owned by people who don’t live in Iowa full time.  In 2012, 21 percent of the farmland in Iowa was owned by someone who didn’t live in the state or only lived in Iowa part time.  This was the same percentage as found in the 2007 survey. However, in 1982, only 6 percent of the land was owned by someone who didn’t live in Iowa or only lived here part of the time. It appears that the higher land values had an impact on the ownership by non-Iowans.

Ownership of Iowa’s farmland and access to the use of the land is critical for the future of the State. The impact of the ownership on both beginning farmers and the retiring farmers will be crucial. The current situation with respect to farmland ownership in Iowa is a good topic for discussion among landlords, family or heirs, and agribusiness professionals.

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