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When Speculation is a Bust: The Return to Farming

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[Photo by flickr user Colin Maduzia]

Behind their pay wall, The Wall Street Journal is talking up a nationwide trend in ex-urban speculative development land being reclaimed by farmers. Home prices are down, food prices are up, and all of a sudden, these land holdings are a liability for developers. With the economics of land investment turned upside-down, farmers are reclaiming land in their native regions for far less than was paid them in boom years.

A Tribune piece from June, "Shrewd investments enable farmers to live off the land they sold, then bought", addresses the phenomenon at the edges of Chicagoland. Farmer brothers Bob and Ed Baltz sold off over 300 acres, or one-third of their total land, to prominent housing developers for $25,000/acre several years ago, reinvesting proceeds in 4,000 acres downstate. They rented that land to other farmers, eventually selling for more than double its cost as commodity prices rose. To complete the reversal, they returned upstate to reclaim the original land from the hands of lenders after the housing bust. They intend to grow high-priced commodity crops like soy, while they await the next boom. A nice way to cash in, but no way to stop sprawl long-term.
·U.S. Farmers reclaim land from developers [WSJ]
·Shrewd investments enable farmers to live off the land they sold, then bought [Trib]