he 80 acres of rich farmland that Jeff Freking and his brother Randy bought near Le Mars, Iowa, on Monday for $10,000 an acre would seem to have nothing in common with a condo in Miami or a house in Las Vegas.
But as prices for agricultural land surge across America’s grain belt, regulators are warning that a new real estate bubble may be forming — echoing the frothy boom in home prices that saw values in Miami and Las Vegas skyrocket and then plummet.
“It just seems to be going up in leaps and bounds here,” said Jeff Freking, who bought a similar farm, also in northwestern Iowa, for $6,000 an acre just two years ago. “Everybody thinks it’s crazy.”
The surge in prices has been dizzying throughout the Midwest, with double-digit percentage increases last year in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska. In parts of Iowa, prices for good farmland rose as much as 23 percent last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
Just a few years ago, farmers marveled as land prices began to rise in response to demand for corn to make ethanol. More recently, soaring prices for wheat, corn, soybeans and other crops have driven the increase. Corn futures on the Chicago Board of Trade closed at $7.27 a bushel on Tuesday, up from $3.70 a year earlier. Soybean futures were $13.67, up from $9.52 cents on March 1 last year. Average grain prices, adjusted for inflation, are nearing the giddy levels they reached in the late 1970s, the peak of the last disastrous boom-and-bust cycle for agricultural land.