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Riding record profits, American farmers are optimistic about the coming season

farmers record prices
Posted at 11:54 AM, Feb 03, 2022

GRINNELL, Iowa — A bitterly cold wind whips across Zach Van Arkel's Iowa farm fields. Blanketed in snow, it is hard to find any sign of life here in the thick of a brutal Midwest winter.

And yet, life goes on for this third-generation farmer.

"On days like today, we try to find work to do inside," Van Arkel jokingly remarked.

This land in Grinnell, Iowa once belonged to Zach’s great-great-grandfather. Furthering the family legacy now sits firmly on his shoulders.

And while farmers are notoriously known for looking ahead to "next year," these last two years have been some of the best for farmers across the United States.

"We had a really good year and the previous year was good as well," Van Arkel said.

As inhospitable as it all looks now, the corn and soybeans grown across the Iowa fields fetched record prices last year.

Inflation though and a shortage of both new and used farm equipment are threatening to wipe out some of those gains for many farmers in the U.S.

"Where do you spend your money when everything seems to be inflated in value?" he said.

Real estate agent Mark Gannon sees the impacts of inflation from another angle. He spends his days selling farms across Iowa. Like much of the housing market across the country, the price of farmland has skyrocketed by as much as 30% in two years.

"There’s land selling at $20,000 an acre, which was unheard of 10 years ago," Gannon said.

With the cost of land so high though, it's making it harder for the younger, next generation of farmers to get started.

"It’s just getting away from individuals and people and communities. I’m not sure you can stop that it’s like any other industry," Gannon noted.

But it is the often-herculean efforts it takes to farm these fields seeing the biggest impacts of both supply and demand issues.

A shortage of parts and new farm machinery coming off assembly lines, means Zach Van Arkel and his family are having to stretch.

"If you wanted to get a new tractor, I’m not even sure you could get it, and that’s what’s driven up the cost of used tractors," the 35-year-old said.

At farm auctions across the country, used equipment is in high demand and fetching record-high prices.

"We found guys who bought a tractor 10 years ago who are selling it in the last year for more than they paid for it," said Jason Hallberg, who runs an auction company in Iowa.

As for Zach Van Arkel, he knows the winds of change will inevitably blow in. What that means for his family's bottom line is as uncertain as the weather.

"It’s consumed or be consumed and if you don’t grow you’re falling behind."