Sale of farmland brings in $24 million
Group of 20 buys most of it for $15.2 million
An auction of 4,000 acres of the region’s best farmland was a mixture of high-tech bidding, nerves and banjos on Wednesday.
The land, which is about 50 miles south of Springfield, brought $24 million after a marathon 6 1/2-hour auction that drew 800 people to the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Included were corporate bidders from as far away as Kansas City, Mo.
At the end, a group of 20 area farmers/investors wound up with the bulk of the land, 2,462 acres, for $15.2 million. A farmer designated as spokesman for the group said they intend to keep the land much has it has been for the last 70 years, as a family farm.
“We came together as neighbors. We just wanted to try and keep the land locally owned,” said Jeff Helgen of Helgen Partners of Litchfield.
The property was purchased from Kilton Farms Inc.
Helgen, whose family has leased sections of the Kilton Farms since the 1970s, said the new owners will work out who will farm which tracts. Most of the land is along the west side of Interstate 55 between the Carlinville and Litchfield exits.
“It fell about where we expected. It’s pretty much what everybody budgeted,” Helgen said of the nearly $6,200-an-acre price.
A group of local banks worked with the investors on the purchase.
About 100 acres were added to the original 3,900 as a result of last-minute changes to some of the 43 tracts.
Anticipation had been building for several weeks, but most of the 800 people who packed a ballroom at the Crowne Plaza were there simply to watch on big-screen televisions set up around the room.
About 200 people registered to bid, according to Aumann Auctions Inc., the Nokomis auction house and Illinois Representitve of MarkNet Alliance that conducted the sale.
“It’s been the talk in coffee shops, on the Web, the whole nine yards,” said Don Thomas.
Thomas and his wife, Shirley, farm near Carlinville. The couple stayed from the opening bid at 10 a.m. to the close shortly before 4:30 p.m., though they said they never had any intention of bidding.
“We’re just curious,” Shirley Thomas said.
Roland Barmann joined an investment group from the Kansas City, Mo., area that left the bidding early. Barmann, who farms near Kansas City, said the “multi-parcel” bidding approach used at the auction has been popular in the Kansas City area for several years.
Bidding begins with individual tracts, but then allows gradually escalating multi-parcel bids until by the end only three major bidders remained for the tract purchased by the Litchfield partnership.
“They squeeze every last bit of money out of it,” said Barmann.
Randy James of Enterprise Realty in Maryville, Mo. said the big bidders always come in at the end.
“You could take a nap right now. ... You have to be prepared to wait to the end, even if it’s 10 p.m.,” he said shortly after the bidding opened.
Individuals, groups of farmers and corporate bidders multi-tasked with laptop computers, cell phones and text messaging, all the while slamming new numbers into calculators to keep up with the complicated packages of land.
A large electronic map in one corner of the ballroom changed colors to show which group was in the lead for the largest sections. The room would fall silent — except for the bluegrass music track that played in the background throughout the day — when auctioneer Kurt Aumann called one of dozens of “game changers.”
“It’s do or die, buy a farm or don’t; today is the day,” Aumann shouted before resuming his rapid-fire auctioneer’s pitch.
His wife, Jane Aumann, helped keep track of the paperwork that came with each round of bids.
“We’ve done a lot of land sales, but you hardly ever see one this large,” Aumann said.
Paul Rice of Myers-Rice Land Services in Springfield said the sale is considered a key indicator of the future of farmland prices following record highs reached last summer, when the per-acre average climbed above $5,000 for the first time.
“They’ve fallen from their highs, but that was expected because of the fall in commodity prices,” Rice said. He said he had expected the Litchfield land would bring between $5,500 and $6,000 an acre.
“There’s not that many landowners in the Midwest with this kind of land,” Rice said.