Spokane Journal of Business

Agricultural land sales have slowed, Farm Credit Services says

Separately, Spokane-based lender reports drop in net

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Northwest Farm Credit Services says agricultural land buyers appear more cautious, and the association's recent land value survey found that Northwest land sales activity slowed in the second quarter of 2013.

Separately, the big Spokane-based agricultural lender recently reported second-quarter net income of $47.9 million, down from $56.1 million in the 2012 second quarter. It attributed the decline mainly to an $11.2 million refund of premiums from the Farm Credit System Insurance Corp. that it received a year ago but didn't receive this year.

In its land value survey report, the ag lender says property values in the Northwest generally are strong and potentially increasing. The association says that listings of what it calls "good quality" agricultural properties remain low, with many sales occurring between landlords and tenants.

Northwest Farm Credit Services says some land buyers appear to have concerns over rising interest rates, lower crop yields, and potential irrigation shortages. The concerns may influence land value trends during the remainder of the year, the association says.

Northwest Farm Credit Services' land value survey is based on real estate and sales activities that are monitored by its appraisers throughout Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.

For Washington, the survey found that market activity over the past six months indicated stable to increasing values. Sale prices are "testing the upper limits" for many categories of land, indicating strong demand from regional farmers seeking to expand their operations, the report says.

The association also says that institutional investments and large farms continue to show strong interest in larger Washington properties with good production histories.

For Idaho, the survey found that listings of agricultural farm tracts are limited but that land values remain rated as stable to strong. Many of the properties that sold to ag operators weren't listed on the market, the association says.

Meanwhile, Northwest Farm Credit Services says that for the first six months of this year, it had earnings of $96 million, down from $101.1 million in the first half of 2012.

The Farm Credit System Insurance Corp., which issued the refund that boosted its net income last year, collects premiums each year to help guarantee bonds that the Farm Credit System issues, and it occasionally refunds payments when excess funds accumulate in the premium pool.

Removing the premium refund from the quarter-to-quarter comparison, the ag lender's earnings actually were higher in this most recent quarter, says Linda Hendricksen, the association's senior vice president of marketing.

Additionally, North-west Farm Credit Services says credit quality continued to improve in the latest quarter, resulting in lower provisions for credit losses in 2013.

Total loans owned and served by the association stood at $11 billion at the end of the latest quarter, compared with $10 billion at the end of June 2012. Meanwhile, nonaccrual loans, on which the association isn't collecting interest, dropped to 1.5 percent of its loan portfolio, from 2.5 percent a year earlier.

Farm Credit says it had total assets of $9.2 billion at the end of the quarter, compared with $ 9.1 billion a year earlier.

Treva Lind
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Reporter Treva Lind covers natural resources and technology at the Journal of Business. A Nevada transplant and recovering swim mom, Treva has worked for the Journal since 2011.

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