Jason Henderson, a Purdue University agricultural economist, said the Illinois auction was in line with what many have expected.
"Farmland values are holding pretty flat from where they have been. Usually the big moves in land values come in the fourth quarter, so we're right in the middle of it," he said in an interview. "My scenario as to how I think it's going to play out: we'll get a little softness. Then those farmers will sit there and decide, 'Is this the top of the market or not?' Those who were on the fence thinking about selling, if they think this is the top, then they'll put it on the market."
Prime grain land in Illinois, Iowa and other Midwest states rose 20 to 30 percent in 2012 alone. Soaring demand for corn from ethanol makers, strong demand from China and other importers, and rock-bottom U.S. interest rates have all combined to feed the farm land boom.
But skyrocketing land values have stirred nightmare memories of the ruinous land bubble of the 1980s, when overleveraged farmers lost their farms as interest rates jumped. Farmers who lived through those times remember them well. Many were among the more than one hundred onlookers who sat in the old Macoupin County courthouse in Carlinville last week to watch the auction.
For some, the sale was a sober reminder of the bad old days and bitter lessons repeated.
The property had been owned by Rick Rosentreter, an ambitious young farmer who grew his grain operation from a few thousand acres to 30,000 acres in just a few years. But it was fueled by debt and the bankers who had lent to him foreclosed.
"The tone of the sale was great," said Huber. "The reason for the sale was not. There was stress."
Rosentreter was not present for the sale. Seth Baker, a broker with real estate company Schroeder Huber, said the young farmer's meteoric rise and fall drew some interest in the event. But he said that when the bidding opened, it was the productive value of the land, not seller distress, that made the day.
"There have been some sales that went well, others not so well over the past few months. We were on the high end of what we expected," Baker said. "Outside of tracts 5-6, which sold relatively low due to access issues, all of the other tillable ground brought exceptional market value for class B, B+ soil types."
Other big buyers were also neighbors of Rosentreter, including the Behme family, which bought a 40-acre tract for $11,500 an acre.
But the biggest buyer was a neighbor from 90 miles (145 miles) to the north in Decatur - Archer Daniels Midland, the biggest grain processor in the country. ADM bought a 30-acre parcel that included 20 grain storage bins for $9.1 million.