Iowa Land Value  ·  FAQ

in conjunction with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

What is the Iowa State University Land Value Survey?

The Iowa State University Land Value Survey was initiated in 1941 and is sponsored annually by Iowa State University. This ISU Land Value Survey is the only data source that consistently provides average land value estimates for each of all 99 counties in Iowa. We also publish high, medium, low, and average land value at the state-level and crop reporting district level. Beginning 2014, the survey is being conducted by the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Economics Department at Iowa State University and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Who should I contact if I have questions regarding the survey or land value in general?

Dr. Wendong Zhang, an associate professor of Economics and extension economist at Iowa State University, is lead researcher of the ISU Land Value Survey. For questions regarding the survey and land value in general, please feel free to contact Dr. Zhang at or call the office at 515-294-2536.

Why do farmland value and the survey matter?

Valued at 2.31 trillion US dollars in 2016, farm real estate (land and structures) accounted for 85% of total US farm assets. As it comprises such a significant portion of the balance sheet of US farms, changes in the value of farm real estate have an important bearing on the farm sector’s financial performance. Farm real estate also represents the largest single item in a typical farmer’s investment portfolio; as a principal source of collateral for farm loans and a key component of many farmers’ retirement funds, changes in its value can affect the financial wellbeing of landowners.

When is the ISU Land Value Survey results released?

Each year, the ISU Land Value Survey is conducted during November, and the results will be announced at a press release conference mid-December by Dr. Zhang.

How to interpret the land value estimates from the survey? Is that just for cropland?

The farmland value estimates from the ISU Land Value Survey is average land value estimates for all farmland in the county, which not only includes cropland, but also include pasture, CRP, and timberland. Specifically, we ask the respondents “farmland value for average-sized farms in your county as of November 1.”

Who respond to the ISU Land Value Survey?

The survey is based on reports by licensed real estate brokers, farm managers, appraisers, agricultural lenders, and selected individuals considered to be knowledgeable of land market conditions. Respondents were asked to report for more than one county if they were knowledgeable about the land markets.

Starting from 2015, respondents could participate the survey online in addition to the traditional paper mail method. We also reach out the members of the Iowa Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and the Iowa Bankers Association.

How is land quality defined in the ISU Land Value Survey?

In 2015, the respondents were asked the average CSR and CSR2 for the high, medium and low quality land for a particular county. The results show that agricultural professionals perceive high, medium and low quality with respect to their area or district. Note that the average CSR2 for high quality land in Southwest and South Central districts are less than the average CSR2 for the medium quality land in Northwest district. In addition, comparing across the CRDs shows a difference of 19% between the high and low CSR2 for the high quality land. Table 11 (page 17) from the 2016 results overview shows the average CSR2 and corn yields for high, medium and low quality land by crop reporting district.

What is the key differences between the ISU survey and other surveys by USDA, Federal Reserve, and RLI?

There are four major distinctions between the ISU survey and other surveys of Iowa farmland market conducted by USDA, Federal Reserve, and RLI. First, the respondents are different: ISU survey relies on farm managers, appraisers, brokers and ag lenders, RLI survey relies mainly on farm managers, appraisers, and brokers, Federal Reserve survey bank presidents and ag lenders, while USDA relies on estimates by individual agricultural producers. Second, the land value definitions are different: for example, USDA asks the farmer to estimate the current market value of the parcel that he or she operates, while ISU survey asks for the typical farmland value for average-sized farms in a particular county. And RLI breaks down the land value by high, medium and low-quality tillable cropland, pasture and timberland. Third, the spatial coverage of the survey is different: ISU is the only data source that provides an annual land value estimate at the county level, RLI is at the crop reporting district level, and USDA and Federal Reserve are typically at the state level. USDA Census of Agriculture does provide a county-level estimate but that is conducted every five years. Finally, the timing of the survey is different: ISU land value estimates are as of November 1, USDA survey is released every August for value as of June, RLI estimates are released every March and September, and Federal Reserve estimates are released in January, April, July and October.

Does the land value estimate based on ISU survey different from transaction prices?

For 1990, and 2005 through 2011, average prices per acre were calculated for 20 randomly- selected counties in Iowa. These prices were compared to results of the survey conducted by ISU by Dr. Mike Duffy in a Choices article. Survey results were consistently (80% of the time) higher than sales prices, by an average of 8.9%. However, the sales results were not significantly (statistically) different than the survey averages for any year. There were two unusual years, 2007 and 2011. These were years of rapid change in Iowa land values resulting in expectations that were not reflected in land market prices.

Land value surveys provide a good indication of the direction of change and level of value, but they are still an opinion survey that represents who is being surveyed. It is important to consider the survey respondents, the questions asked, the time period covered, and other factors relating to a particular survey. Opinion surveys and sales data are two different things. It is important to remember the distinction and uses when considering the data.

Can I directly use this survey when buying or selling a particular parcel?

The survey is intended to provide information on general land value trends, geographical land price relationships and factors influencing the Iowa land market. The survey is not intended to provide an estimate for any particular piece of property. We recommend the interested buyer or seller go to county assessor websites (Beacon or Vanguard) or auction results to check out recent sales for comparable parcels in their region.

What tools people should use when assessing the economic and financial aspects of farmland purchase?

Buying farmland is the largest investment many farmers will make in their careers. Dr. William Edwards, Emeritus Professor of Economics and retired farm management specialist, has published two articles in Ag Decision Maker to evaluating a land purchase decision: Economic analysis: how much is the land worth based on its net income earning potential? Financial analysis: will the land generate a positive cash flow after paying all operating and ownership expenses as well as debt payments?

How farmland is typically sold? What is a farmland auction?

According to data from Farm Credit Service of America, Public auctions have been the chief mode when farmland is sold. Since 2011, public auctions accounted for 40-50 percent of all farmland sales in Iowa, followed by private party sales and sales facilitated by a realtor. It is interesting that the portion of public auctions increased from around 30 percent of all sales in 2006-2010 to more than 40 percent in 2011-2016. Dr. Zhang has an Ag Decision Maker article on the sale and supply of farmland which offers more details on this issue.

Farmers National Company has a nice summary with more details on how a farmland auction works.

What buys Iowa’s farmland?

The majority of farmland sales, about 70 percent, were to existing farmers. At least for the last three decades, existing farmers have always been the dominant buyer of Iowa farmland. Rather than investors setting the market, it is more like Iowa farmers buying land from Iowa farmers. Investors typically represented 20-25 percent of the sales, of which individual investors capture 15 percent of land sales. But the share of investors buying land tend to be higher when farmers no longer enjoy high commodity prices. In 2015, new farmers represented 3 percent of the sales, and other purchasers were 1 percent of sales.

Who owns Iowa’s farmland?

According to the 2014 USDA Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land survey (TOTAL), about half of Iowa’s farmland is rented or leased from someone else. In 2014, the 105,194 landlords rented out 16.33 million acres of farmland (cropland and pastureland) in Iowa, and account for more than half of Iowa’s 30.6 million acres of agricultural land. Of these acres rented out, 23 percent were rented out by operator landlords – those who not only operate on owned acres but also rent out additional land, and 77 percent by non-operator landlords, of which the individual ownership, trust, and partnership are the most common arrangements.