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Farmland sales are steady; Roben family sells farm

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 12/27/2012 8:35 AM

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ROCKWELL, Iowa — The time had come for Mabelle and Glen Roben's children to sell the family farm. The Cerro Gordo County land had been owned by Robens for four generations.

Richard Martin of Ankeny and his partner, Todd Hall of Sheffield, bought the 140-acre farm in Geneseo Township last week for $8,100 per acre at a public auction held in the Rockwell Community Center.

The sale was one of several farmland auctions conducted this year by Dennis Behr and his son, Cory, owners of Behr Auction Company in Rockwell.

Gerald "Rob" Roben of Bellevue, Gail Roben Johnson of Butte des Morts, Wis., and Greg Roben of Sullivan, Wis., were at the sale. Another sister, Glennys Compton, lives in Columbia, S.C.

"It feels like closure," said Johnson following the auction. "When you lose your parents, you're wrapping up loose ends, and the farm was a solid heavy end. Mom and Dad worked and worked on the farm."

Johnson said she and her brothers were happy with the selling price.

"This is a chunk of land across a creek," she said. "We're very pleased. Dad would have been, 'Oh, my goodness.' "

Johnson said it was time to sell.

"You don't know what's coming with Obamacare and taxes," she said. "It's time to say goodbye."

Martin and Hall, who do business as Hallmart Farms, run ground from Sheffield to Ankeny. They own grain equipment manufacturing plants in Sheffield, Des Moines and Vincennes, Ind.

"We ship equipment all over the world, and we know that the ag industry is growing throughout the world," Martin said. "Our passion is farming. All the land we run, we own."

Martin said they had a number picked and they knew what they would pay.

"We went for it and obviously we own it," Martin said.

Gerald said the farm had been in the family since 1892. He and his siblings grew up in a four-bedroom house in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The house was sold in 1991.

"When Dad farmed it, he had 320 acres total," Gerald said.

Johnson has many farm memories. In the 1960s they were featured on the cover of Wallaces Farmer.

"All the relatives would come over, and we did sweet corn and chickens," she said. "You fed the whole family over the winter with what you canned from the garden."

Gerald said they had 80 to 100 head of cattle, and at one point they had 2,000 hogs. His 4-H steer got out into the corn field one time. A neighbor with an airplane buzzed the field and the steer jumped back into its pen. Gerald loved to lay on top of the hay stack and watch the stars on summer nights.

The farm has an average corn suitability rating of 75.1. Fourteen acres are in a Conservation Reserve Program filter strip program through 2020, which makes the price paid per tillable acre $10,198, Cory said

"We're sellling a fourth generation farm that dates back to when the railroad came through Cerro Gordo County," Dennis said before he and Cory auctioned the land. "Glen and Mabelle were lifelong Rockwell residents, and they did a tremendous amount of good for the community."

Cory said farmland values have increased by double digits seven of the last eight years, and demand is strong.

"Farmland is one of the best investments there is," Dennis said. "The stock market is not where you want your money, and you're not drawing much interest at the bank."

Farmland auctions have been at a steady pace for Behr Auction Company . Each sale generally attracts 120 to 130 people. Buyers are about 75 percent farmers and 25 percent investors, Cory said.

"A lot of people are selling estates," Cory said. "Prices are good and the current capital gains tax rate is due to go up in 2013. A lot of people are looking to take advantage of that in 2012."

At the auctions they've conducted, farm land has sold for $100 to $170 per CSR point or $10,000 to $12,000 per acre for the good soils, Cory said.