I visited with one of the auction-goers for Orten B. Brodshaug’s Cass County land rent auction.
The man left shaking his head at the $150 to $160 per acre average rents in areas that had commanded as little as half that the previous year. As soon as he left the auction he went to see his landlord to tell him what happened, that farmland rents have shot up in the Red River Valley. "I was glad I did," he said. He heard about another person who’d failed to contact his landlord immediately — a widow. Within several hours of the sale a daughter of the widow called HIM, asking what was going on, and if their land contract needed to be renegotiated. That conversation was more awkward than the first man’s.
The current corn and ethanol craze is hard to think about — one of the most extraordinary phenomena I’ve seen in nearly 30 years of ag reporting. Maybe bigger than the 1980s, credit crisis.
That’s saying a lot.
In 1982 I was covering in Worthington, Minn., covering the great Jerusalem artichoke deal (It’s actually the reason I wound up in the Red River Valley.) It was a pyramid-type scam and really a symptom of a big farm credit crisis that lasted through the end of the decade. One of my last stories down there involved the Ruthton, Minn., killing of a couple of bankers who were lured to a farmstead by a farmer who’d fallen on hard times.
When I got up to Fargo in 1983, some of the stories I covered were the southeast North Dakota farmer who dug a trench around his farm and armed himself with guns in a vain attempt to stop a foreclosure. I covered Frances B. Cannon, self-described as "the world’s only singing psychic," who came to town to sing to the farmers and soothe their troubled financial hearts. (Yes, she and her friend Rudolph "The Lion of Judah" Zalowitz of Hackensack, N.J., took a collection at the end of the event at the old Oak Manor in Fargo.)
Yes, this ethanol deal is bigger than that. (I’m not sure it’s bigger than the 1970s, but then I didn’t start covering agriculture until 1978 when I was an intern for The Farmer magazine.)
I’ll be writing more on this topic in my ag-at-large columns, coming up in Agweek. Your thoughts on all of this are welcome.