Calculating Farmland’s Potential Rate of Return

green fields on either side of two-lane highway

Comparable sales, opportunity costs and price per acre are all good benchmarks to factor into a land purchase, but how can you evaluate a property’s potential rate of return?

Calculating cap rate is one strategy for measuring the return on a farmland investment. We explain the basics of using cap rate, how to calculate it and why it’s an important metric.

Calculate your cap rate.

What is cap rate?

Cap rate, short for capitalization rate, is used to estimate the profitability or potential return of a farmland property. In other words, cap rate represents the expected annual earnings or income stream generated over the course of land ownership.

Unlike stock return rates, cap rates for farmland tend to increase in value over time in addition to earning capital gains. Therefore, this metric is more comparable to the dividend rate received on a stock.

When comparing multiple tracts of land, cap rate can be a useful tool for evaluating earning potential at a glance. It can also help give you an idea of how long it will take to recapture your initial investment.

Why is cap rate important?

Overall, cap rate can be a useful land evaluation tool for several reasons. First, cap rate is a quick and easy method you can use to determine if a property is immediately profitable by comparing the income you will be generating against the purchase price.

Second, cap rate allows you to compare properties at their current state. This can be helpful if you are looking at purchasing different tracts of farmland in the same area or around the same price.

Third, using cap rate, you can start to estimate the payback period of your investment or the time it will take to recover your capital outflow.

Finally, because cap rate reflects a snapshot in time of an asset’s return, you can focus on the value of the property alone without the distraction of other factors impacting your purchase decision. Of course, if you plan to finance the land purchase, you’ll want to consider your repayment options.

Estimating the value of farmland doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Make the most of your next land purchase by using cap rate as a reference point to justify the purchase price and calculate your rate of return.

How is cap rate calculated?

To calculate the capitalization rate of a land purchase simply divide the property’s net operating income by its current market value.

Capitalization Rate = Net Operating Income / Current Market Value

The net operating income is the expected annual income generated minus expenses incurred for managing the land. For investors who intend to have the land farmed by a tenant, use a market-based cash rent and subtract property taxes and other pertinent ownership costs such as insurance, maintenance or professional land management fees.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) compiles county-level statistics for per-acre cash rental rates. You can also check with the local extension office for cash-rental rate information.

The current market value is the present-day value of the property according to prevailing market rates. Keep in mind that while you can use the purchase price to make a quick cap rate calculation, land values will fluctuate over time.

The resulting ratio is typically expressed as a percentage. For example, let’s say you are interested in purchasing 100 acres at a price of $10,000/acre with a cash rent of $240/acre. Divide $240 by $10,000 and you get a cap rate of 2.4%.

Farm real estate cap rates typically range between 2-6% and are subject to variance depending on the location, overall market value of the property and other factors affecting its valuation. As you weigh your risk tolerance with your return expectations, it’s worth noting that farmland is generally low in cash flow but high in appreciation.


  • green field with flowers in foreground

    Ag Finances

    Avoiding Management Growth Traps

    Watch as we unpack the idea of management growth traps and strategies for overcoming them.

  • farmer looking at phone while leaning against tailgate of white pickup truck in a rural setting

    Ag Finances

    Farm Financial Decisions in a Higher Interest Rate Environment

    Our experts review the current rate environment among other topics ranging from early payment discounts to equipment purchases to paying down long-term debt.

  • red farm building surrounded by a harvested field

    Ag Finances

    Leasing Farm Buildings as a Tax Strategy

    Whether they are adding grain bins, machine sheds or livestock facilities to their operations, more producers are choosing leases, primarily as a tax management strategy.