O'Brien County cropland

Cash rent for cropland in O'Brien County, such as this field along 480th Street in rural Sheldon, is renting for $260 an acre on average, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service agency.

SHELDON—O’Brien County farmland again ranks among the cream of the crop in Iowa.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service agency, nonirrigated cropland rented for an average of $260 an acre in O’Brien County this year, an $11 increase from 2017.

That’s tied for the third-highest rate in Iowa alongside Lyon and Dubuque counties.

Scott County had the highest rental at $277 an acre followed by Bremer County at $268. Cash rental rates averaged $255 an acre in Sioux County and $216 in Osceola County.

The statewide average was $230, a $1 drop from 2017 which is when the last report was released.

NASS Upper Midwest regional director Greg Thessen explained the methodology of the county cash rent report.

He said the agency sends out surveys by mail or phone and they ask farmers how many acres they rent for cash and what the average price is.

“We don’t publish if we have less than 30 reports for a county,” Thessen said.

He said the survey process starts in March and they generally collect data through June.

The survey is generally conducted every two years unless there is a special circumstance in which the agency receives additional funding to perform a survey in an off-year.

For potential renters, Thessen cautions the amounts provided are just a generalization and do not account for every situation.

“The numbers that are published there are not necessarily what they can rent a piece of land in that county for today because if they are renting land, they’ve made some agreement with a landowner own for a while — they may have had a rent lock-in,” he said.

“So when we are doing the survey, we are asking for they actually paid or what they are actually paying for rent as opposed to what would you have to pay to rent a new piece of land today.”

Family connections also can play a role in pricing.

“If that’s the case and they are actually selected for our survey, again, we are asking them what they are actually paying and if they are paying a lower rent because they are renting from a family member, that’s what we take from them,” Thessen said.

“We actually have a question on our form that asks are they renting from family members because if it’s lower, that actually gives us a clue as to why it’s lower; we don’t have to check back with them to see if they reported correctly.”

For areas with higher production of seed corn — the Northwest Iowa crop reporting district, which includes all four regional counties, is one of the most productive in the state — rents tend to be higher.

“There’s more competition to rent land is my guess why it’s higher there,” Thessen said.