Low interest rates and record crops continue to fuel demand for farmland from Kneehill north to Red Deer Counties, with the number of parcels transferring ownership in the 12-month period ( June 2012 to May 2013) on par with last year’s strong performance. Inventory continues to be a challenge in the area, with the shortage placing serious upward pressure on values. Price per acre has increased about 15 per cent on average this year over last, with prime land fetching substantially more. Properties that would have sold at an average of $2,800 to $3,500 an acre one year ago now have a sticker price as high as $3,400 to $4,500 per acre, or as high as $5,500 an acre in Olds. In the Lacombe area near Red Deer, even greater pressure exists, with values rising to as high as $6,500 per acre. Private deals continue unabated between neighbours and landlords/tenants, further hampering listing inventory. By far, the most aggressive players in the market are the supply-managed farms and the Hutterite Colonies—both of whom are looking to expand existing operations. New players have also emerged in recent years, including the investment community, who are now diversifying portfolios to include agricultural land
Many are opting for 3,000 acres to start, with land ideal for cereal grains, including wheat, canola, and barley. Interest rates continue to play a crucial role in the compilation of farmland, with variable rates hovering at two to three percent. Some farmers, anticipating higher rates down the road, are locking in at five- and ten-year terms to secure more long-term favourable rates. The low interest rate environment has discouraged some people from selling their land (unless they can sell at a premium), ultimately limiting the amount of land for sale. Yet, it has also created confidence amongst buyers that can now budget their cash flow to service new debt. Managing risk continues to be a mainstay for those in farming, with many lending institutions now working alongside agricultural communities. One trend that has been supported by loans offered by Farm Credit Canada (FCC) and other financial institutions is the return of younger farmers back into the market. Tremendous crops and record commodity prices in recent years have been a major impetus, in spite of commodities off last year’s peak levels. While market conditions are expected to remain stable for the remainder of the year in Central Alberta, the rapid appreciation experienced in the past is unlikely to continue. Banks are expected to somewhat tighten lending practices in the coming year, which will further serve to slow escalation. Still balance sheets show strong equity across the board, one factor that will support the market for farmland in the months and years ahead.
A serious shortage of farmland listings continues to temper momentum in Southern Alberta’s market. Buyers continue to seek out cultivated, dry land and irrigated parcels, but available properties remain few and far between. Approximately 10 farmland listings are currently available for sale. Exclusive listings and private deals continue to be commonplace, keeping listings from the open market and an expanded buyer pool. Any quality sections that have come on stream have moved quickly, and although demand remains strong, lower commodity values have served to create a new level of diligence among buyers. Purchasers are weighing their options and waiting for the ideal parcel. However, when the right opportunity presents, they’re moving quickly. Most farmland properties generally sell within two weeks—some within days. Confidence remains high and most purchasers feel secure in long-term value and potential that farmland investment represents. The bulk of buyers are local end users. The need and desire to expand continues to bolster the market, as everyone from smaller operators, local Hutterite colonies and major players vie to increase their stake. Some U.S. investors have bought up parcels for a long-term hold, with the intent to rent the land to existing operators. Competition for rental land remains solid, with rents averaging $50 to $60 an acre for dry land, while irrigated land with pivot commands a premium. While supply outpaces demand, prices have managed to hold firm over the past year. Grassland is commanding $800 to $1,200, while dry, bare land typically generates $1,000 to $1,600 per acre. Irrigation land requires a premium outlay, usually moving between $5,000 and $8,500 per acre. Farmland closer to key cities/municipalities have garnered top dollar, with notable sales this season running between $9,200 and just under $10,000 an acre. Deals are coming together rather fluidly, as most vendors continue to have realistic expectations. Financing is rarely an issue, despite tighter lending restrictions. Buyers exist for virtually all types of product, from large parcels to quarter sections, gentleman/hobby farms to ranchland and dairy operations, as long as the price reflects fair market value.
To date, the board has recorded roughly three dozen sales, with the busiest season for farmland real estate set to get underway this fall. While the pace remains steady, there are few multiple offers to speak of, as most properties sell right away through word of mouth, either exclusively or in private deals. Or in the case of MLS listings, most realtors have their own willing buyer pool waiting in the wings. Despite news of widespread flooding in Southern Alberta earlier this spring, most crop land was unaffected, although some hail did damage crops in the southeast area of the province. On the whole, yields look good for 2013. Overall, vendors can expect demand to remain in line with current levels for the foreseeable future, while purchasers will benefit from price stability. The potential for rising interest rates is not expected to prove a significant deterrent to eager purchasers, whose belief in land remains steadfast.
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