How To Invest In Farmland For Beginners 2020

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Savvy investors are always on the hunt for ways to grow their net worth while diversifying across different assets. For most investors, this means spreading your money out across real estate, stocks, bonds and maybe even precious metals.

However, within the realm of real estate investing, there are numerous different investment opportunities. You could go out and buy a duplex or a fixer upper. Maybe you learned about real estate crowdfunding where you can get in on private real estate deals.

But what about farmland? You know, the land that produces a very important resource known as food.

Maybe you had a bagel for breakfast this morning. They make them with flour, which comes from wheat. All over the United States, there are massive farms growing this valuable crop and more.

In the past, your only option for investing in farmland was to go out and buy a farm yourself. Most people, including myself, have no interest in managing or operating a farm. However, there are now countless ways to capitalize on this investment opportunity from the comfort of your own home. In fact, you don’t even need to step foot on a farm or worry about tracking mud in.

Here’s everything you need to know about farmland investing.

What Is Farmland Investing?

As the name suggests, farmland investing means you are making an investment in some form related to the production of crops. At the end of the day, the land is real estate, so this is lumped in with real estate investing.

However, rather than investing in buildings for housing or retail space, you are investing in farmland.

According to the USDA, there are approximately 911 million acres of farmland in the United States. You might be surprised to find out that over half of that farmland is rented, meaning the farmer is paying the owner of that land for the rights to use it.

In fact, most of the rented farmland is owned by non-operator landlords. These are land owners that have no active involvement in the actual farming. Operator landlords are those that own the land and are actively involved in the farming activities.

The USDA found that 283 million acres worth, or 30% of all US farmland, is owned by these non-operator landlords. These are groups that want to capitalize on the investment opportunity associated with farmland without getting their hands dirty.

Only 20% of the rented farmland is owned by operator landlords who actually work the farms themselves.

Each day, more people are finding out about the investment opportunity within owning farmland but not necessarily being involved with the farming activities. New farmland investing platforms are popping up all the time, potentially giving you the opportunity to get in on the action.

farmfundr investment

This investment shown above is from FarmFundr.

Types Of Farmland Investments

Most of the rented farmland is used for grain production. These crops have strong demand and are an easy source of cash for farmers.

However, there are a wide variety of crops grown across farms all over the United States. Let’s cover those now.

What Crops Do We Grow?

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, these are the 10 most popular crops grown in the United States.

1. Corn

This is by far the most popular crop we grow in the United States, accounting for over 90 million acres.

We use corn for a variety of different products ranging from feed, alcohol and sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup).

2. Soybeans

Believe it or not, the United States is the leading producer of soybeans in the world! We grow so many that we are also the leading exporter of soybeans.

These days, soy is in just about every product we eat. You can process soybeans for oil, use them as feed for animals or human consumption.

3. Wheat

Coming in at number 3 is Wheat, another profitable crop we grow here.

4. Cotton

We grow a lot of cotton too, coming in at the third largest cotton producing country in the world!

5. Fruit

The United States has a vast climate, meaning many different fruits can be grown here. Whether this is apples in New York or Florida Oranges, we grow a lot of fruit too.

6. Sweeteners

We grow a lot of cane sugar in states like Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas. We also produce a lot of stevia in the Southeast, used as a sugar alternative.

7. Vegetables

Beyond just corn, we grow a lot of vegetables here too. This could be tomatoes or romaine lettuce for human consumption or vegetables that we process into other products.

8. Rice

Here in the US we grow short, medium and long grain rice.

The only climate that supports rice crops is in the Southern parts of the United States. In fact, we grow a lot of the rice in California.

9. Pulses

This crop category includes beans, legumes, peas and peanuts.

10. Tree Nuts

Surprisingly, peanuts are not tree nuts. These are actually pulses. Tree nuts include almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and more.

Farmland Investing Trends

According to a report by Farm Foundation, here are the current trends we are seeing with farmland.

The first major trend within farmland investing, mentioned earlier, is that more people are investing in farmland as non-operating landlords. This includes institutional investors, REITs and even individuals who are buying shares of farmland through online platforms.

The United States has been in a period of low interest rates for over a decade now, and this has pushed investors to seek alternate assets for a means of return. This is one reason why many investors are getting into farmland. The stock market may be too volatile with the constant ups and downs, but bond yields are relatively flat and not keeping up with inflation.

Another trend seen right now is consolidation of smaller farm operations into larger ones. This is largely due to weak commodity prices. Crops like wheat and corn are a commodity. Larger farms operate more efficiently, so combining operations is often a cost effective move.

Farms are consolidating resulting in a less farms but larger farms

We are also seeing a shift away from gluten, as more people are opting for a gluten free diet. This is resulting in less demand for wheat. However, these people are often consuming wheat alternatives such as soy or rice.

Lastly, there is a growing trend of individuals making direct equity investments in farmland. In the past, it was mostly large institutional investors purchasing farmland as an investment. Now, there are countless platforms that allow you to purchase shares of farmland similar to how you purchase a share of a publicly traded company.

How To Earn Money

Just like with the stock market and other real estate investments, there are two primary ways to make money with a farmland investment:

  1. Capital Appreciation
  2. Distributions

The first, and most straightforward, way to make money owning farmland is to grow something on your land. However, since most of us likely do not want to be getting our hands dirty, this would mean renting it out to a farmer. The farmer you lease the land to will pay a set amount of money per month for the rights to grow on that land.

If you own the entire farm, 100% of that money goes to you. If you own shares of the farmland, you will earn a percentage of the rent payment based on what percentage of the farm you own. Most of the farmland investing platforms will pay these distributions out on a quarterly or annual basis.

The second way to make money with farmland investing is by selling the farm for a profit down the road. Let’s say you bought farmland for $100,000 and then 10 years later it was worth $150,000. If you sold it, you would have a $50,000 capital gain from owning the land. As the old saying goes, they aren’t making any more land. So, it tends to go up in value over time.

Some farmland investments will allow you to make money in other ways. For example, some deals may allow you to get a cut of the crop grown. However, these are the most common ways to make money.

How To Invest In Farmland

How you invest in farmland will largely come down to your status as an investor.

The SEC has set rules about who can and cannot invest in certain investments out there. They have a specific status called accredited investor which means a wider array of investments are available to you. In order to be an accredited investor, you have to meet certain income, net worth or licensing requirements.

Governing bodies like the SEC regulate public investments such as stocks. This is resource intensive, and as a result the SEC cannot possibly regulate all investments out there. That is why some investments are limited to accredited investors only. They view this group as financially stable enough to take on higher risks. It is also expected that this type of investor performs their own research and due diligence.

Unfortunately, many farmland investments out there require you to be an accredited investor. First of all, let’s define the requirements so you can determine if you are accredited.

farmland tractor

Accredited Investor Requirements

In order to be an accredited investor, you need to meet 1 of the following requirements:

  1. You must have a net worth of $1,000,000 or more, excluding the value of your primary residence.
  2. Annual income of $200,000 or more ($300,000 if married) for the last 2 years, with expectations it will remain this high going forward.
  3. You hold an active Series 7, Series 65, or Series 82 license.

You don’t have to meet all of these requirements, just one. At this point, you should know whether or not you are accredited. Based on that, here are the farmland investment opportunities available for both accredited and non-accredited investors.

Farmland Investments For Accredited Investors

As an accredited investor, the main option you have available to you is investing through online farmland investing platforms. You are also allowed to participate in any investments for non-accredited investors too.

Here’s our full article comparing the best farmland investing platforms.

Crowdfunded Investment Platforms

Earlier in this article, we discussed farmland investing trends. One of them that was mentioned was that more and more individuals are making direct investments into farmland. In the past, it was largely just institutional investors making these investments in farmland. This was because accessibility was low.

Now, there are countless farmland investing platforms out there that allow accredited investors to purchase shares of farmland.

Each platform is a bit different, but they often have the following similarities:

  1. The minimum investment ranges from $5,000 to $20,000.
  2. A team of market experts performs due diligence on farmland investments before offering them on the site.
  3. There is rarely a secondary market to sell shares, meaning you should expect to hold on for the duration.
  4. The time horizon is 5 to 10 years. 
  5. You pay fees to the company for facilitating deals and taking care of all the paperwork.
  6. You are typically buying shares of an LLC that owns the farmland.

Here’s a summary of the current farmland investment platforms available to investors. For more info, check out our dedicated reviews or our article on the best farmland investing platforms.

FarmTogether

FarmTogether is a farmland crowdfunding platform specializing in purchasing farmland along the west coast that is already profitable. In doing so, investors are able to receive cashflow from their investment from the get-go.

Click here to view current offerings on FarmTogether!

AcreTrader

AcreTrader is one of the most well-established farmland crowdfunding platforms out there. Thie low fees and competitive returns set them apart from many of the other platforms that are charging high fees just to stay afloat. AcreTrader has carved out a niche for themselves that has led to rapid market dominance.

Click here to view current offerings on AcreTrader!

FarmFundr

FarmFundr is a crowdfunding platform that allows investors to buy shares in a farm, not just the land it sits on. As a result, investors share in the profits from the yearly harvest. This gives investors additional potential for upside as well as additional risk if crop yields are reduced.

Farmland LP

Farmland LP is a platform specializing in converting conventional farmland to organic farmland. By capitalizing on the supply and demand imbalance in the organic market, Farmland LP is able to generate 4x as much profit-per-acre as traditional farms. Investors on the platform cannot invest in individual projects, and instead, invest in a fund created by Farmland LP.

Harvest Returns

Harvest Returns is a farmland crowdfunding platform that puts the relationship with farmers first. The terms of deals on their platform can vary significantly depending on what the farmer needs and include both equity and debt-based deals. Most deals are open to a number of non-accredited investors.

Steward

Steward is a crowdfunding platform specializing in loans for smaller farmers. By loaning money to farmers instead of buying land, returns will generally be more stable. However, returns will likely also be lower due to the decreased risk. Non-accredited investors can get started on this platform with as little as $100!

Farmland Investments For Non-Accredited Investors

If you are not an accredited investor, don’t fret. There are other options out there for getting in on this investment. Many of the online farmland investing platforms have expressed plans to have options for non-accredited investors in the future. However, so far, there are no current offerings.

That being said, here are your options for investing in farmland as a non-accredited investor.

Buying Land

This is certainly not the most passive route, but if you can secure a loan from a bank, you could go out and purchase farmland directly.

There are website out there like Buy A Farm where you can bid on farmland or see what properties are for sale. A big difference between this route and going with a farmland investing platform is that you will be doing all of the legwork. You may choose to be an operator landlord, meaning you will be growing on the land. Or, you could be a non-operator landlord and rent the land out to a farmer.

In order to buy land outright, you should get ready to have tens of thousands of dollars to secure a mortgage. You will also need to have decent credit, and they may want to see some kind of track record related to your experience in farmland and farming.

If you are willing to do more of the legwork, you can cut out the middleman and own the land directly. You won’t be paying any management fees this way.

Farmland REITs

Another option out there for non-accredited investors is to invest through an ETF or exchange traded fund.

When discussing real estate, this is actually an investment we call a REIT or real estate investment trust. The fund owner raises money to purchase real estate. Then, the fund is split up into individual shares that can be bought and sold on major stock exchanges. In order to be classified as a REIT, 90% or more of its taxable income to shareholders in the form of dividends.

While this may sound great, there are a few downsides to investing in a REIT.

First of all, they are not the most transparent investment out there. It is difficult to figure out exactly what properties you own when investing in a REIT. This would require you to comb through complicated financial documents to answer that question.

Second of all, since REITs trade on the same exchanges as stocks they tend to behave similarly. One of the core reasons to invest in real estate is to diversify your portfolio. Diversification is important because it ensures that your not taking on too much risk by being too heavily invested in one asset. Unfortunately, REITs tend to see some of the same panic selling that is often seen with stocks. Since they trade on the same exchanges, they can be unloaded at the click of a button just like stocks.

That being said, if you are a non-accredited investor your options for farmland investment are limited. There are not too many farmland REITs out there, but here’s a quick summary of the ones that are available.

Gladstone Land (LAND)

Gladstone Land is an equity REIT focusing on growing fresh produce for sale in the US, rather than commodity crops. The REIT currently owns over $900 million in farmland and takes advantage of diversification by growing over 45 individual crops across 100+ farms. Since its inception in 1997, LAND has delivered consistent dividends to their investors every month.

Farmland Partners (FPI)

Farmland Partners is a newer equity REIT that has gone on to surpass over $1.1 billion farmland. The REIT specializes in farms that grow commodity crops like corn, soybeans, and cotton. By doing so, they are able to take advantage of economies of scale and deep knowledge of best practices. The company has paid out a stable quarterly dividend since their IPO in 2014.

Here’s our full article on farmland REITs.

Why Invest In Farmland?

So, why might you want to own a piece of farmland yourself?

Investing in real estate carries a lot of unique benefits, one of them being the tax benefits that you do not see with other investments out there. In addition, spreading your money out across different asset classes helps to mitigate risk. Lastly, returns from farmland have kept pace with and at some times exceeded the stock market, with significantly less volatility.

Let’s cover each of these reasons in a bit more detail now.

1. Diversification

Have you ever heard the saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket?”

This perfectly portrays the concept of diversification. If you have all your eggs in one basket, and that basket breaks, all of your eggs will fall out and break. You instead want your eggs spread across many different baskets.

Diversification means spreading your money out across different investments. Within the stock market, this means buying companies within different industries. This could also mean investing in both US companies and foreign companies. It also means investing in different assets that will have a different reaction to the same events.

If the stock market crashes, that does not necessarily mean the real estate market will crash as well. Not to mention, even if the real estate market tanks, farmland may not see the same jarring drop. There could be high vacancies among commercial properties, but everyone still has to eat. This could mean that farmland remains in demand.

Nobody has a crystal ball. There could be a drought or a blight in the next few years that negatively impacts farmland. The point here is that most financial experts recommend spreading your money out across different things, and investing in farmland is one way to accomplish this.

2. Tax Benefits

One huge benefit to investing in real estate over stocks/bonds is the array of tax benefits available to you. Based on the current tax laws, real estate follows a favorable set of rules when it comes to taxes.

If you buy shares of farmland through online platforms or buy a farm directly, you can take advantage of these tax benefits. Unfortunately, publicly traded REITs do not carry the same tax advantages.

Here’s a list of the common tax benefits for real estate investors:

  1. You can depreciate the property to offset some of the income.
  2. Mortgage interest is deductible.
  3. If you pay a mortgage insurance premium, this is deductible.
  4. You can defer capital gains through a 1031 exchange.
  5. Repair, upkeep and maintenance costs can be deducted.
  6. Rental property management and other services are deductible.
  7. Utilities are deductible.
  8. You can deduct travel costs like driving to and from the property.
  9. Certain locations have individual tax incentives, such as opportunity zones.

Specifically related to farmland investing, these are the main tax benefits to consider.

Depreciation

Unfortunately, physical land cannot be depreciated in the same way that real estate is. You can depreciate buildings and structures because they wear out over time. Land, on the other hand, cannot be worn out. It is infinitely usable.

However, certain crops can be depreciated based on their production cycle. Crops like fruits and nuts have a useful life cycle, and as such they are exhausted over time.

Depreciation of these crops begins when they are able to be harvested. At this point, you have a means of producing income from the plant. The IRS allows you to depreciate fruit and nut plants under the General Depreciation System, where they are depreciated over a 10 year period.

If there are any structures on the farmland, such as barns, these structures can be depreciated since they wear out over time. Simply put, the land itself cannot be depreciated. What is grown on or built on the land may be able to be depreciated.

Lower Tax Rates

Some states have lower property taxes for agricultural land. This is to encourage investment in farmland here in the US. If you end up owning a farm in one of these states, you may pay less in property taxes.

These tax breaks vary from state to state, so it is important to do your own research when assessing farmland in a given state.

1031 Exchange

Farmland, like other real estate, qualifies for a 1031 exchange. This allows you to defer capital gains tax by rolling the profits of one real estate investment into a like kind investment.

For example, let’s say you purchased a piece of farmland for $100,000 and you sold it 10 years later for $150,000. You would have $50,000 of capital gains to pay taxes on.

If you wanted to defer those taxes and pay them later, you could purchase another piece of farmland for $150,000. As long as you complete the exchange within the IRS timeline, you can say “catch you later” to the IRS when it comes to the taxes.

Individual Retirement Accounts

Another tax benefit is taking advantage of investing in farmland through an IRA.

Not all assets are permitted to be owned in a retirement account, but real estate is allowed to be. An IRA is a type of investment account that allows you to invest with certain tax advantages. The two most common ones are the Traditional and Roth IRA.

With a Traditional IRA, you avoid taxes now but pay them later.

With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes now but avoid them later.

Individual IRA’s give investors a lot more flexibility when it comes to what they are investing in. You are not solely limited to mutual funds or other funds like you are with most 401(k) plans.

Some of the platforms such as Harvest Returns allow you to invest through an IRA to reap these benefits. You simply have to fund an IRA account using one of their partners and direct those funds to one of the agricultural investments on their platform.

3. Farmland Investment Returns

Lastly, one of the biggest reasons to invest in farmland is based on the historical returns.

Keep in mind, past results do not guarantee a similar outcome. However, when you look at the returns over the long run, farmland has performed better with significantly less volatility than many investments.

When analyzing a potential investment, two important factors to consider are the historical performance as well as the volatility.

Historical Performance shows you what kind of return this investment has generated over a set period of time.

Volatility is a measurement of the ups and downs of that investment, or how drastically the price changes. Highly volatile investments have greater ups and downs, which is often seen as a negative among long term investors.

Let’s compare farmland to two other popular investments now.

Farmland vs Stocks

The most popular investment out there is owning stocks, or shares of individual companies. As companies grow, share prices increase over time and profits are often shared in the form of dividends. That being said, how does the stock market compare to farmland investing?

Over the last 20 years, the average return for farmland has been 12.1% annually. During the same time period, the S&P 500 returned 9.2% annually.

This may not sound like a huge difference, but a study from AcreTrader found that if you invested $10,000 in farmland in 1990, it would now be worth $199,700. That same investment in the stock market would only be worth $117,500.

When comparing returns, it’s also important to consider the volatility of the investment. Farmland clearly comes out ahead here. In the last 20 years, there have been a number of corrections in the stock market including the dot-com bubble and Great Recession.

Farmland on the other hand, has not had a year with negative returns since before 1990. As a result, an investment in farmland is about 1/3 as volatile as an investment in the S&P 500. 

Long term investors look for assets with solid returns that are low in volatility. Especially as you are getting older, you do not want to hold assets that fluctuate in value like crazy. Farmland has delivered consistent returns with significantly less volatility than the stock market.

For more information, check out our full guide on farmland investing vs stock investing.

Farmland vs Commercial Real Estate

When it comes to owning real estate, one of the most popular segments is commercial real estate. This is large apartment buildings, offices, retail space and things like that.

So, how does a less common real estate investment like farmland compare to commercial real estate investing?

Going back to 1990, commercial real estate has returned an average of 8.3% per year. During the same time period, farmland returned 11.5% annually to investors on average.

From year-to-year, commercial real estate has experienced 8.2% volatility on average, where farmland has only seen 6.7%.

While commercial real estate has been less volatile than the stock market, it still experiences more volatility than farmland. The returns for farmland have also exceeded returns from commercial real estate from 1990 to today.

For more information, check out our full guide on farmland investing vs traditional real estate investing.

Why Not To Invest In Farmland?

All of this being said, there is no such thing as a perfect investment opportunity.

Every investment will carry some degree of risk. It is up to you to consider the risk/reward spread to see if it is worth it in the long run.

Here are a few reasons why farmland might not be a good investment for you.

1. Risks

First of all, there are some unique risks associated with farmland investing that you may not see with other assets.

Vacancy

The first risk factor is seen in all real estate investments. This is the fact that your tenant could move out, leaving you with a vacancy. They could also stiff you on rent, leading to an eviction.

If you invest through a farmland investing platform, they will likely facilitate the process of finding a new farmer to lease the land. The good news is, most of these are multi-year leases for farmland.

If you buy a piece of farmland directly with no middleman, you will have to find a new tenant yourself for the land. During vacancies, you are not making any money from rents.

Weather

Perhaps the biggest risk when growing things in the ground is the weather. Crops are susceptible to a number of different weather related risks. For example, excessive rain, droughts, hail or frost can all damage crops.

The good news for you is that farmers have to pay rent for the land regardless of the crop conditions. Obviously, it is in everyones best interest for the farmer to have a profitable venture. However, a few bad growing seasons could lead to a farming operating having to shut down.

In addition, some farmland investments give you a cut of the profits associated with the crop. If weather negatively impacts the crops, that means less money in your pocket.

Political

Another risk factor for farmland investing is the political risk. A lot of what is grown here in the US is exported to other countries. As mentioned earlier, the US is one of the leading exporters of soybeans.

Political tension like we have seen with China over the last few years could lead to tariffs being placed on US exports. This can significantly impact the demand for crops, which could hurt farmers.

One other thing to consider here is that the current tax laws favor real estate investors, including farmland investors. These laws could change, making real estate investing less lucrative.

2. Liquidity

One of the biggest reasons not to invest in farmland is if you prioritize investment liquidity. For those who are not familiar, liquidity is a measurement of how easily an asset can be converted into cash.

Investments like stocks have high liquidity because in most cases you can sell them with the click of a button. Shares trade on major US exchanges, so there is almost always a buyer and a seller available when you are looking to transact.

Real estate, on the other hand, is a low liquidity investment. The best example to use is selling a house. It usually takes many weeks to find a buyer, not a matter of seconds. It is more difficult to turn real estate into cash than it is to turn stocks into cash.

When investing in farmland through online platforms, you should be prepared to hold onto this investment for the entire duration. Each platform should specify how long this holding period is.

Some of these online platforms already offer or have plans to offer a secondary market where you can sell your shares, but this is not guaranteed. They cannot say for certain that there will be a buyer on the other side when you are looking to sell.

This is just the nature of private real estate investments, and this is something you need to be familiar with and comfortable with before diving in.

3. High Barrier To Entry

The last reason why you might not want to invest in farmland is the high barrier to entry. For one thing, many of the investments require you to be an accredited investor. This alone is a large hurdle to overcome.

In addition, even if you are accredited, many of these online platforms have an investment minimum of $10,000 or more. Some are even as high as $50,000. Not everyone has this much cash sitting around.

It is possible to get around these hurdles by investing in farmland REITs, however most experts would agree that publicly traded REITs are not as desirable as private real estate investments.

Final Thoughts

At this point, you should be ready to make an informed decision about investing in farmland.

If you plan on investing in farmland through an online platform, check out all of our farmland investing platform reviews here.

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Happy Investing!

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