Iowa State researchers find under use of land hurts farmers

Researchers found in 2010-2013 the amount of unprofitable land was rapidly expanding. | File photo

Agronomists at Iowa State University have shed light on how the under use of Iowa farm land costs farmers money, especially on acres devoted to corn and soybeans, through a study published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Spotty soil conditions and other agronomic challenges in fields across the state reduce yields enough to make some acres unprofitable. From a strict dollars and cents perspective, the low yields produced on those acres fall short of the cost of inputs such as fertilizers and herbicides,” Elke Brandes, a postdoctoral research associate in agronomy and lead author of the study, said. “One might ask, ‘Well, why are farmers still farming with row crops – with maize and soybean -- if these high input costs don’t really make a profit?’ The answer is that crop insurance and high grain prices in recent years obscure the fact that some acres are a net drain on the bottom line.”

The ISU researchers worked with AgSolver to look over data from 2010-2013 and projected results for 2015 available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the ISU Land Values Survey. 

Small pockets of unprofitable land ordinarily would not account for much farm acreage. However, the researchers found in 2010-2013 the amount of unprofitable land was rapidly expanding to include larger areas of land by 2015. It’s projected that approximately 27 percent of Iowa farmland will be classified as unprofitable in 2015, having lost $100 or more per acre.

ISU encourages land owners and managers to work with the university to develop tailored ways to strengthen Iowa’s farming economy and ensure farmers are raising the best crops in the best ways.

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