The Real Transactions

Check the real estate transactions in the Thief River Falls Times newspaper-it is several columns of busy financial activity. Each transaction carries a story which we will never hear.
First off, let’s talk about land sales. I remember a time back in the 90’s when there wasn’t a lot of land being sold. Prices were low, rent was not great and land was owned by the same last name for decades at a time. As values increased, sales became brisk- it’s easy to understand this movement as it is simply people making some money on an asset. Even as commodity prices have fallen; prices have maintained in our area or even increased. Land prices in states such as Illinois and Iowa have reduced by a higher percentage which might have occurred because these prices were higher. I recently scanned a copy of recent sales of AG-1 land and some of the prices were astounding, while others were much lower. It was a mixed bag that seemed to me to price in favor of large parcels over quality of the land-although quality still meant something too.
I don’t want to talk land sales. I want to talk about people. There’s a face and a life behind each sale. In some cases, these faces belong to relatives of the original owner. Sometimes it is the face of an investor who’s face you will never see. Other times, we see the face of a farmer who has tended this land since he was young and has decided it is time to retire.
The retiring farmer is the person of whom I want to speak. A lot of these farmers started in the 1960’s or 1970’s. These are the people who started when farms were still a quarter of land and 40 beef cows or a barn full of dairy cattle. These same farmers survived a terrible farm crisis and somehow limped through some very unprofitable times by using the same tractor and doing a lot of repair. A lot of these farmers were not agri-businessmen, they were farmers who learned the language of puts, calls and forward-contracting as they perfected the art of sharpening their pencils. They started out with land that had been prairie within the last century and coaxed it into the food-producing machine that sustains all of us.
So the transition has begun. I think a lot of the sales are coming from investors ready to cash out and grandchildren ready to leave something for their children. High costs and low prices are squeezing out many except the largest farms as these folks typically have other considerations than simple price. Farmers who have rented land for decades have lost the land as they could not afford to make its purchase price. They are now in the process of ending a relationship with the land that is just as real as any human can ever attain. We all can read the real estate transaction in the paper, my hope is that you seem the stories and faces behind the sales.

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