So, what is Westhoff’s take on farmland values in the United States? Is there really a bubble that some are worried is set to pop?

“It’s not just all speculation. We have, indeed, had very strong fundamentals in recent years. There have been very good returns to crop production along with low interest rates. That combination has made cropland worth a lot more than it would’ve been worth 10 years ago.

“But it does raise the question of what happens if and when crop prices come back down and interest rates go back up?

“I know there are people out there who are firm believers that there has been too much of a price run-up in too short of a time in ways that are not generally justified.”

At the Kansas City forum, “this was discussed a fair amount. One of the speakers, Michael Swanson (a senior vice president and consultant with Wells Fargo), talked about this and one of his points was that even if there are arguments for why land prices have come up, we’re not seeing people being as discerning as they should be. Lower-quality land is perhaps being sold for more than it should be relative to good-quality land.

“One of (Swanson’s) arguments is that people should perhaps put more money into improving the quality of their land instead of buying more land -- tiling, irrigation and the like to make the land more productive. That would provide a better return on investment in the future instead of simply buying more land.”

Another of Westhoff’s points is that the future rate of growth depends on public and private investments. Has he looked at that in terms of research funding in the farm bills passed by the Senate and House?

“The farm bill itself doesn’t provide a lot of money for research. The actual money for USDA research comes from annual appropriations bills. The farm bill does set the rules of the road for those appropriations.

“There have been concerns with the annual appropriations. We haven’t seen the increase in public funding (of agriculture research) that a lot of people like to see. That’s why there are many folks concerned about what future productivity will be in the United States and elsewhere.

“There has been an increase in private sector research. But a lot of people are concerned about public sector funding be maintained to ensure that all portions of agriculture receive the support needed to develop future productivity.”

If the price of corn drops to, say, $3, how would the ethanol market respond?

“For domestic consumption, the real question is whether we’ll be able to satisfy the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) in 2014.

“And look at the value of a RIN – the certificate required to show compliance with RFS. After the last couple of weeks, the value has been about $1.35 per gallon. That implies we are being forced to discount ethanol sharply to try and get anyone to buy a blend higher than 10 percent. Trying to change that in the near-term is very difficult because of the lack of flex-fuel cars and E-15 or E-85 pumps.

“A question that’s been below the radar screen so far is: if corn prices come down sharply, will there be a big increase in ethanol exports? We were a net exporter of ethanol for several years recently. Those exports were rather significant until the drought hit. That could happen again in 2014, although I don’t see us exporting billions and billions of gallons.”