COON RAPIDS: Eight parcels of Garst family farm ground sold for more than $19 million Tuesday morning in a historic land auction.
The Garst land was sold with first-of-its-kind conservation easements designed to preserve soil and prevent erosion. There was much speculation on whether those restrictions would discourage buyers, but apparently it didn’t matter much, as the 1,998 total acres sold for total of $19,262,308, or $9,641 per acre average. The land is located in Carroll, Greene, Guthrie and Audubon counties.
The event took place in downtown Coon Rapids at the Raccoon River Social Club.
Steve Bruere, president of Peoples Company, a Clive farmland management operation, said the land and its historic and agriculture ties are high profile and drew solid interest.
“It was an exceptional outcome,” he said. “I think it exceeded expectations.”
Twenty-seven bidders attended the event after qualifying themselves in a sealed bidding event on Aug. 6.
The Garst properties were marketed as high-quality farms with hardened landscapes that would hold up to potential erratic weather and climate adjustments. The Garst family were early advocates of rigid conservation practices, building terraces, buffer strips and waterways. They practiced no-till farming for nearly 40 years and, in recent years, employed cover crops to reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter.
Earlier this year, when they decided to sell their ag land, the family did not want to see their conservation efforts buried by the plow. Instead they arranged for all acres to be placed under a soil conservation easement that will ensure the conservation measures currently utilized on the farms be continued.
Working with attorneys, the family arranged to donate the easements to Whiterock Conservancy, the non-profit land trust the Garst family created in 2004 when it gave roughly 5,500 acres. Some of the sale proceeds will be directed to support Whiterock’s ability to monitor conservation management of the farms into the future.
“Whenever you do something for the first time, there’s uncertainty in how it turns out,” said Chris Eddy of Community Insurance, who, along with Peoples Company, represented the Garst family for the auction.
Eddy said the biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s auction was that the five individuals who bought the eight tracts of Garst land were all local farmers.
“This was not investment money or an outside equity firm buying the land,” Eddy said. “These were local farmer buyers, people who put the work in and understood the easement and realized they could work with Whiterock Conservancy and still be successful in owning these tracts.”
“The conservation easement definitely had an impact on the sale, but it wasn’t as dramatic as what some people thought it would be,” Eddy continued. “We got really good, solid numbers today.”
Eddy acknowledged there were some farmers who might otherwise have chosen to participate in the auction, had there not been conservation easements.
“They weren’t going to pay top dollar for the farms because of the easements. They wanted the farms at a discount,” said Eddy. “I think we’re looking at this as a slight discount, but in the end, the Garst family was able to accomplish what they wanted, which is maintaining the conservation practices.”
“The Garst family have always been innovators in agriculture and the easements will continue that legacy,” said Jared Chambers of Peoples Company, who called the sale.
“We had a lot of conversations with people who were supportive and wanting to see the easements work,” Eddy continued. “The difficulty as realtors was to turn that into bids, educating the buyers on what’s in the easement so they would be comfortable to actually show up and buy. That was the challenge. The fact that Garst did this first was a risk, but I think they proved it could be successful.”