Farm futures: private equity goes organic

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

At Farmland’s 1,000-acre Corvallis farm, the sense of passionate engagement on the part of Bradford and his current tenant-farmer partners is palpable. He is slightly professorial, ready to deeply discuss soil fertility, portable henhouse design or the life cycle of lichens, all in the space of two hours. At Farmland, Bradford’s primary role is land management, and he uses Google Earth to demonstrate to his visitor how organizing land rotations is a bit like laying a puzzle, with some pieces functioning as paddocks for nibbling sheep, others as home ground for hundreds of laying hens in their portable henhouses, some lying fallow or growing new pasture grass (and grass seed), and others fostering grain or veggie crops.

Bradford says Oregon was the perfect place for Farmland to start looking for land back in 2009-2010, as the bursting of the housing bubble caused the state’s grass-seed and nursery industries to suffer setbacks (the Corvallis main acreage is a former grass-seed farm).

Part of Farmland’s attraction for investors is the focus on pastured production on a larger scale than what sustainable agriculture has been able to achieve. One of the most famous sustainable farm operations, Joel Salatin’s Polyface farm in Virginia, is 500 acres. One thousand acres is Bradford’s idea of a good start size.

Part of Farmland’s model hinges on finding farmers willing to lease with Farmland LP rather than own their own land. Those farmer-partners the company is now working with insist the deal is a good one. Karen Wells and her husband, Neal, spent four years searching for an Oregon property from which to launch their pastured poultry operation. As Neal was an accountant by trade, the pair was able to realistically run the numbers when assessing prospective land purchases. “We had the ability to do the financial analysis,” Karen says, “but the math never worked.” Karen says her family’s process made the ideal of land ownership less attractive.

“We know too many family farms going under … the next generation is not necessarily interested in farming, there’s a profit problem, etc.,” she says. “Now there are farmers out there saying to us, ‘But you are not going to own the land,’ and I say, ‘Exactly. It’s an albatross.’”

After realizing that farmers like the Wells also need seed money, Bradford and Wichner went back to their investor group and formed a separate LLC called Vitality Farms to invest in both livestock and product innovation on Farmland acreage.



 

More Articles

Urban benediction

Linda Baker
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
072215 THUMB Credit-PontificalAcademyofSciencesBY LINDA BAKER

Charlie Hales has long viewed sound urban planning as the route to salvation: social, economic and environmental. This week, the mayor's city design philosophy got the nod of approval from a bona fide spiritual authority, Pope Francis.


Read more...

Fueling Up for the Climb

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY GREGG MORRIS

Rita Hansen aims to scale natural gas vehicle innovation.


Read more...

Wildcards

Guest Blog
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
China A SharesBY JASON NORRIS, CFA | OB GUEST BLOGGER

Uncertainty in Greece and China, along with potential interest rate hikes mean investors are looking at the market and nervously questioning where they should be invested.


Read more...

Fixing Oregon’s broken roads

The Latest
Tuesday, June 09, 2015
RUCCostComparison rev4-30BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

The technology at the center of Oregon’s road usage fee reform.


Read more...

Balancing Act

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY DAN COOK

The Affordable Care Act has triggered a rush on health care plan redesign, a process fraught with hidden costs and consequences.


Read more...

Photo Log: Waterfront Blues Festival

The Latest
Thursday, July 09, 2015
bluesfestthumbBY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The sweltering weather didn't keep the crowds away. Although the numbers were down slightly from last year, the Oregon Food Bank raised $850,636 to fight hunger.  About 80,000 people attended despite temperatures in the upper 90s.


Read more...

Department of Self-Promotion

Linda Baker
Wednesday, June 17, 2015

061715-awards1Oregon Business wins journalism awards.


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