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Mississippi: Delta Farmland Auction Pulls in the Blue Jeans and the Suits

By Debra Ferguson
Saturday, April 13, 2013

Historically, Mississippi Delta farmers keep their land sales and purchases under their caps. A quiet handshake and a mention among a select group of friends around a cup of coffee has been the norm.

This week was a game changer. The location and the money was nowhere close to the usual.

Folks in Bolivar County, Mississippi, knew this land sale was going to be different based on the advertising placed in local newspapers and website “virtual tours” offered  by Halderman Real Estate Services. Talk was plentiful and big – “of course, I’m gonna put me a bid in on some of that land,” cracked one farmer. By the end of the day, many were speechless at the going price.

The land, known locally as “medi-corners,” totals 3,627 acres divided into 16 tracts with approximately 3,446 tillable acres. Located 7.5 miles southwest of Cleveland, Mississippi, and 3 miles west of U.S. Highway 61, the land is mostly irrigated/precision leveled, and has a history of growing cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans and rice.

The Jacobs Conference Center on the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, is an unlikely venue for a farmland auction. It was a bit intimidating for many who might frequent such events, but even the shy person could still “attend” this one from the comfort of their own computer. Halderman Real Estate Services hosted the auction as a live internet event with bidding available.

Auction day, April 11, was just one more rainy day in the Mississippi Delta. In fact, one farmer  joked that you might need a boat just to get out to some of the fields on the auction block. No exact information is available on the number of web participants, but the non-bidding, on-site crowd was estimated at 130-plus, and approximately 30 to 40 people were in the bidding ring. A mix of farmers in blue jeans and boots took their place among the Brooks Brothers suits and wingtip shoes. Curiosity and auction fever bound everyone together.

The DSU conference center is set up with a “pit” in the middle of the large room where the actual bidders were seated while non-bidding spectators picked their chairs for a strategic view of the action. A large viewing screen kept the audience, as well as the bidders, informed by showing the bid number, tract number and total price per acre.

The bidding was fast and the auctioneer never paused, and it was intense. One onlooker commented that he saw several folks in the non-bidding crowd “sitting on their hands when the money got serious,” which didn’t take long.  Starting with a minimum per acre bid of $4,100, it was already higher than some recent Delta farmland sales in the $2,750 to $3,500 range.

Bidders took their best shot at the 16 separate tracts, which totaled around $11 million in high bids. But then, “that’s when it got interesting” commented a spectator.

Once all of the tracts were auctioned off, the current group of bidders were offered the opportunity to outbid the highest bids per acre and acquire particular or preferred tracts. When this happens it increases the per acre cost on all the tracts and current bidders either ante up or fold. There was a lot of folding. Finally, two bidders were still standing, metaphorically speaking.  One was a “virtual bidder,” on the internet and referred to as “H Man” while the other was said to be an Argentina investor attending live accompanied by his attorney.

The two bidders went toe to toe, or maybe web to toe would be a better description. There was a final call of 5 more minutes and H Man folded. The investor from Argentina took it home for a cool $17.2 million or $4,742 per acre.

In less than 2 hours, the game really did change.

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