BY BERNARD CONDON
Yet when 430 acres of Michigan cornfields was auctioned last summer, it was Janowski, a brash, 33-year-old software executive, who made the winning bid.
It was so high — $4 million, 25 percent above the next-highest — that some farmers stood, shook their heads and walked out. And Janowski figures he got the land cheap.
Braden Janowski is 32 years old and a self-described serial entrepreneur. Where you see corn fields, he sees profits, based on the rising price of food. So last summer this former software executive spent $4 million to buy a 430-acre farm in Michigan, a bid that was 25 percent above the highest. Still, Janowski figures that he got the land cheap.
“Corn back then was around $4,” he said from his office in Tulsa, Okla., stealing a glance at prices per bushel on his computer. Corn rose to almost $8 in June and trades now at about $7.
A new breed of gentleman farmer is shaking up the American heartland. Rich investors with no ties to farming, no dirt under their nails, are confident enough to wager big on a patch of earth, betting that it’s a smart investment because food will only get more expensive around the world.
They are buying wheat fields in Kansas, rows of Iowa corn and acres of soybeans in Indiana. And though farmers still fill most of the seats at auctions, the newcomers are growing in number and variety — a Seattle computer executive, a Kansas City lawyer, a publishing executive from Chicago, a Boston money manager.
The value of Iowa farmland has almost doubled in six years. In Nebraska and Kansas, it’s up more than 50 percent. Prices have risen so fast that regulators have begun sounding alarms, and farmers are beginning to voice concerns.
“I never thought prices would get this high,” said Robert Huber, 73, who just sold his 500-acre corn and soybean farm in Carmel, Ind., for $3.8 million, or $7,600 an acre, triple what he paid for it a decade ago.