Sunday, October 1, 2023

Rising Land Prices Pose Challenges for Virginia Farmers

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some of the largest recent price increases in farm real estate have been in Oklahoma and Texas, where prices grew by 11.4% and 11.3%, respectively. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Farmers are facing record-high land prices due to a bevy of factors.

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, Virginia farm real estate prices have risen 8.5% in the last four years, and cost is not the only problem farmers face in trying to acquire land. Some Black farmers find it challenging to lay claim to their place in the ag industry.

Duron Chavis, board member of the Central Virginia Agrarian Commons, said the lack of intergenerational wealth among Black families is a major factor in trying to buy farmland.

“If I don’t have the money, I don’t have the money,” Chavis acknowledged. “The reality is it’s not like I can go walk into a bank and be like, ‘Hey, I’d like to get an equity loan on a home that I don’t even own,’ if I’m a renter. That’s just not how the system works.”

He sees more immediate solutions to the issue as land redistribution and reparative justice. A 2022 study from the American Economic Association Journal examines Black land loss from 1920 to 1997, and found the compounded value of the loss is roughly $326 billion.

John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, said farmland prices pose other challenges. For anyone who wants to get into agriculture, paying several thousand dollars per acre eats through a lot of the startup funds for the farm needed to get going. He added there are also challenges for current farmers.

“If things are going to continue as it has in the past, if you’re one of the farmers that’s been expanding and got a lot of land, got a lot of equity, you’re going to continue to compete for the prices,” Ikerd pointed out. “I think what we’re going to see is, we’re going to see fewer and fewer farmers that can compete.”

Ikerd believes land and farms should be sold to the people who are actually working the land, rather than large, investor-owned farms consolidating available acreage. He said one of the bigger concerns is the land being used for all its profitability, and then being sold after it’s depleted.

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