FARMERS National Company (FNC), Omaha, NE, reported that prices of 300 land and ranch sales it handled this year were at or above the record sales prices recorded last year. The company reported that so far in 2005, land in the central and eastern Corn Belt went for $3,500 to $5,000/acre and the western Corn Belt recorded prices of $2,500 to $3,500/acre. Top farm ground drew the most demand.

Investors are driving some of the demand as alternative investment opportunities are sought, the company said. And the 1031 tax deferred exchange also is driving demand. Sellers of land for development chose to defer capital gains taxes through the 1031 option by purchasing farms and ranches.

Some of the highest land prices were reported in Indiana and Illinois. High-quality soils command $4,500 to $5,000 in central Illinois and $4,000 in northeast Indiana. In central Iowa, an FNC area sales manager reported quality farms topping $4,000/acre.

The western Corn Belt and High Plains has seen an “explosive” growth in demand during the past year, according to Monty Meusch of FNC in Omaha. He sees land in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska selling for $3,000 to $4,000/acre. In addition to the 1031 option, strong buyer interest is being fueled by limited amounts of land for sale, good crop yields and a strong cattle market.