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Farm futures: private equity goes organic

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Articles - May 2013
Monday, April 29, 2013
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// Photo by Eric Näslund

That farm financing is difficult is not new. Plenty of local programs have tried to help young farmers get onto land, whether by providing matching savings programs and loan application help, such as Slow Money Northwest is attempting with their Farmer Reserve Fund program, or by creating listings to match existing land owners with land seekers, as Friends of Family Farmers is doing with their iFarm program. But traditional bank loans don’t flow easily to farmers. This makes iFarm land seeker and young farmer Aren Hinely curious about Farmland LP’s model.

“Early in [my] search in 2007 and 2008, financing was much easier, but as my family didn’t have much experience in farming at the time, our income-debt ratio was largely all that mattered,” Hinely says. Over time Hinely found a cheap-enough piece of land, but it came with compromises, including a smaller size in a less than ideal location with more land rehabilitation needed. Now that Hinely contemplates expansion, he still faces financing hurdles.

“Overpaying for land, or being in the wrong place, or not having sufficient water and soil quality can lead to compromises in the farming in order to make a mortgage payment,” he says. “I’m very interested in what Farmland LP is up to.”

Instead of leaving investment in farming to the banks, Farmland has found a group of individual and institutional investors who are willing to put money into the Farmland equity fund, in the hopes that returns will be as good or better than commodity cropland’s approximately 5% annual return (not including land appreciation). Farmland’s pasture-based organic and sustainable model has the added benefit of being catnip to socially responsible investors.

Portland-based non-profit Ecotrust is one of these, having followed Farmland LP from its inception. Richard Hervey, Corvallis city council president, is another.

“I really like the model,” Hervey says. “I wanted to move some of our money out of the stock market. Farm land is a fundamentally stable investment and Farmland LP is also a local investment.”



 

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