Farmland Ownership and Tenure Results Available through ISU Extension Store

Results from survey show the age of Iowa’s farmland owners continues to rise

November 5, 2018, 12:12 pm | Wendong Zhang, Alejandro Plastina

AMES, Iowa – An Iowa State University study that shows the age of Iowa’s farmland owners continues to rise is now available through the ISU Extension Store.

early season corn field.Results from the “2017 Farmland Ownership and Tenure Survey 1982-2017: A Thirty-five Year Perspective” (FM 1893) were released in June, but are now available to be purchased for $5. It can also be downloaded as a PDF. The survey was conducted by Wendong Zhang and Alejandro Plastina, assistant professors and extension economists at Iowa State.

A record 35 percent of Iowa farmland owners are aged 75 or older in 2017. Sixty percent were over the age of 65, which is five percentage points higher than 2007 and twice the level recorded in 1982.

Conducted by Iowa State University since the 1940s, the Farmland Ownership and Tenure Survey — completed every five years — focuses on forms of ownership, tenancy and transfer of farmland in Iowa, and characteristics of landowners. The latest survey was conducted in July 2017.
Aging farmland owners is one of several notable trends found in the latest survey.

“An increasing amount of land is cash rented,” Zhang said. “In 1982, leased farmland was equally divided between cash rent and crop share leases. However, by 2017, 82 percent of leased farmland was under a cash rent arrangement. Two primary reasons for the trend away from crop share and towards cash rent agreements are that landowners have become more dispersed and the number of landowners per tenant has increased. Both these trends make payment in grain and keeping grain differentiated by owner more difficult.”

More farmland is now owned debt free, the researchers said. In 2017, 82 percent of Iowa farmland was debt free, a significant increase from 62 percent in 1982 and 78 percent in 2012. This could be the result of profits earned during good crop years in 2012 and 2014 and profitable livestock production years like 2014.

The survey found that reasons for owning farmland are changing.

“The survey found three primary reasons for owning farmland,” Plastina said. “Almost half — 49 percent — is owned for current income, 19 percent is owned for long-term investment and 29 percent is owned for family or sentimental reasons. The remaining reasons include owning a house with an acreage and for recreation purposes.”

Zhang and Plastina said the data show a trend away from sole ownership and joint tenancy towards institutionalized ownership structures, such as trusts and corporations. Taken together, these major trends have significant implications for when and how farmland is intended to be transferred to the next generation, the Iowa State economists said.

“These recent trends reveal that only 7 percent of Iowa farmland was intended to be sold to a nonfamily member,” said Zhang. “Recent federal and state tax policy changes, especially the reinforcements of stepped-up basis for farmland transition and 1031 exchanges for farmland, will likely continue making the farmland market tight with limited land sales.”

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