Herb Struyk sat on a swivel chair in his air-conditioned barn office, a 12-by-12 room that resembles a man cave. Surrounded by a collection of beer posters, a deer head and a Hooters calendar, he hosts a daily coffee gab for area farmers. They gather at 9 a.m., pull their mugs from hooks on the wall and pour from Herb’s pot.
“Crazy prices, crazy times,” said Struyk (pronounced “strike”). Corn and soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade hit records last summer, with the government projecting the U.S. harvest to be the lowest in at least five years.
He intended to retire from farming in his 60s; now he’s 76 and has no intention of stopping. “It’s really hard to quit when prices are what they are, especially for people like me.”
On this July afternoon he was dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, with tennis shoes and brown argyle socks. Like a survivor pinching himself to make sure his good fortune is real, Struyk wonders aloud where corn and soybean prices are headed.
“This isn’t going to last forever,” he said, “and I’m not so sure these kinds of prices are healthy.”
Struyk began farming in 1956, at age 20, just outside of Sheldon. Today he grows soybeans and corn on about 400 acres (162 hectares) he owns and about 300 he rents. Based on recent auction prices, his land is worth more than $5 million.
Historically high land values have given farming in Iowa the appearance of a private basement poker game, where the pot keeps getting bigger while the players -- the landowners --don’t change. Struyk has a seat at the table, along with his increasingly elderly peers. Fifty-five percent of the state’s farmland was owned by people 65 and older in 2007, almost double the percentage of 25 years earlier, according to survey data from Iowa State.
“For the young farmer getting started, man, he has to have some help,” said Struyk, who knows some who can’t overcome the land-price hurdle. Without financial assistance, “it’s almost impossible,” he said.
Iowa Farms Minting Millionaires as Rich-Poor Gap Widens