Farm futures: private equity goes organic

| Print |  Email
Articles - May 2013
Monday, April 29, 2013

BY APRIL STREETER

0513 FarmFutures 01
Farmer and Ph.D. biologist Jason Bradford takes a pasture-based approach to agriculture that puts livestock back on medium-size farms.
// Photo by Eric Näslund

While farmers may dream of rain showers on demand and lush pastures generating bumper crops, their nightmares are generally financial. Farmland LP, a private equity fund in Oregon, is upending the traditional (some would say dysfunctional) financial model that leads to those nightmares while practicing sustainable, organic and pasture-based farming methods to boot.

In spite of Oregon’s surplus of young farmers armed with optimism and a desire to work in agriculture, farming in 2013 is roughly divided between conventional, large-scale commodity crop farms that tend to get financing and subsidies, and smaller, sometimes struggling family-style farming operations that don’t. In addition, though organic cultivation entered the farming picture over three decades ago, conversion of land to organic is happening at a slower rate than demand for organic products, according to Cathy Greene of the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Add to this the advanced average age of the American farmer (59), and the rising costs of fuel and fodder, and it is a potent recipe for agricultural stagnation.

Farmland LP, the brainchild of farmer and Ph.D. biologist Jason Bradford and financial manager Craig Wichner, aims to break out of this paradigm and find a middle ground. Farmland is neither a typical agricultural farm venture nor a conventional financial instrument. It is a 4-year-old private equity fund based in both Oregon and California, with almost 90 investors, and is on its way to amassing $50 million in capital.

Instead of the typical U.S. model, in which larger acreages are passed on through family inheritance or owned by corporations, Farmland is two managers using investor funds to purchase conventional mid-size farms in both Oregon (around 1,000 acres thus far) and California (5,300 acres). Once converted to certified organic acreage, Farmland’s holdings are put into a newfangled land-management system that is actually based on a more old-fashioned rotation of plots between growing pasture, grazing livestock and cultivating different crops in order to boost soil fertility without chemical fertilizers. And unlike the one-man-one-tractor model of agriculture, in which a few farmers work vast swathes of land in monocrops, or the sustainable farm ideal in which a farmer takes a small patch of ground and coaxes multiple foods from it, Farmland’s model is novel. Different farming experts will ply their trades on the same plots of ground as these pieces of land are moved through rotation.



 

More Articles

Power Players

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY ROBERT MULLIN

A new energy-sharing agreement sparks concerns about independence and collaboration in the region's utility industry.


Read more...

Energy Stream

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Oregon already ranks as the nation’s second largest generator of hydroelectric power. (Washington is No. 1). Now an elegant new installation in Portland is putting an unconventional, sharing economy twist on this age-old water-energy pairing. The new system, launched this winter, uses the flow of water inside city water pipes to spin four turbines that produce electricity for Portland General Electric customers. 


Read more...

6 highlights from the Craft Brewers Conference

The Latest
Friday, April 17, 2015
thumbcbcPHOTOS BY  JASON E. KAPLAN

The 32nd annual CBC attracted a record number of attendees (11,000)  to the Oregon Convention Center.


Read more...

5 ways successful people kickstart the day

The Latest
Thursday, April 02, 2015
coffeethumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Are mornings the most productive part of the day?  We ask five successful executives how they get off to a good start.


Read more...

Bike Chic: 7 stylish options for cyclists

April 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cycling to work is all the rage. But not everyone wants to arrive at the office messy, sweaty — and unfashionable.


Read more...

Photo Diary: Forest Grove Farmers Market

The Latest
Thursday, May 14, 2015
IMG 8469BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

There are more than 160 farmers markets in Oregon, contributing an estimated $50 million in sales, according to the Oregon Farmers Markets Association. We checked in on the Forest Grove market, which for several years has brought local produce and food vendors to Main Street in the center of town.


Read more...

Beyond Bodegas

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Five years in the making, the Portland Mercado — the city’s first Latino public market — will celebrate its grand opening April 11. A $3.5 million public-private partnership spearheaded by Hacienda CDC, the market will house 15 to 20 businesses in the food, retail and service sectors. It has some big-name funders, including the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and JPMorgan Chase. The project goals are equally ambitious: to improve cross-cultural understanding, alleviate poverty and spur community economic development. 


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS