The final subtle nod and the rap of the gavel that signify the winning auction bid are the same as they’ve been for decades, but today’s farmland prices are anything but ordinary.

“We have set all kinds of records,” says Bruce Brock of Brock Auction Company, Le Mars, Iowa. “In the past six months, farmland has taken a good jump.”

Continued record-breaking sales — including two in Iowa this fall that topped $16,000/acre — have heads shaking, tongues wagging and Federal Reserve officials warning of a price bubble ahead. That warning has ag economists, farm lenders and land brokers on the defensive as they explain the economics supporting today’s hot market and the risks that lie ahead.

“This is not a bubble,” says Murray Wise, a longtime farmland broker and auction company owner. “The economics of this [market] are pretty rock solid.”

But the possibility of a speculative bubble is a “nagging concern,” says Purdue University ag economist Craig Dobbins. “Is there potential for a bubble? Yes. Has it started? It’s hard to know. Bubbles are easier to discern after the fact. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be bubbles.”