Farmland investing vs real estate investing

Farmland vs Real Estate: Which Is The Better Investment?

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Key Points

  • Real estate is a popular asset class for investors looking to diversify outside the stock market.
  • Farmland has been a time-tested investment that is less likely to come to mind but historically provides returns with less volatility.
  • Both farmland and commercial real estate offer tax benefits for investors.
  • Farmland investors can profit from appreciation, rental income, and in some cases a cut of the crop yield, while real estate investors profit from appreciation and rental income.
  • Investing in commercial real estate via REITs or crowdfunding is still more popular than investing in farmland, but interest in farmland is growing rapidly.

For investors looking to diversify outside the stock market, real estate is often one of the first places they think to go.

This is for a good reason. Real estate is an asset class that has stood the test of time and delivered consistent returns and cash flow.

Within real estate classes, commercial real estate is where the everyday investor typically thinks to start. However, due to the rise of crowdfunding real estate platforms, it's understandable why this asset class is receiving more attention as of late.

However, another time-tested investment that is less likely to come to mind is farmland. Farmland has been an asset class since our ancestors began growing their own food. As the world population continues to grow, it's likely that the need for farmland will only continue to grow.

In fact, Warren Buffet has been an advocate for investing in farmland. In 1986, Buffet bought a 400-acre piece of farmland and in the 28 years following, only visited the site twice.

But if you're interested in pursuing either of these investments, knowing the advantages and disadvantages is wise. As investors, it's crucial that we become educated before deploying our capital.

It is also essential to remember that farmland vs. commercial real estate is not an either/or decision. With the development of new technologies, investing in both asset classes is possible without much capital or headache.

Most experts recommend having exposure to real estate, whether it be a rental property or a crowdfunded platform, and investment in alternative asset classes such as farmland. Here's how both could fit into your overall investment portfolio.

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AcreTrader farmland investing platform$8,000+View InvestmentsYesUS Farmland, Timberland, Vineyards
EquityMultiple Logo$5,000+View InvestmentsYesCommercial Real Estate Properties
farmtogether new logo table$15,000+View InvestmentsYesUS Farmland
fundrise logo$10View InvestmentsNoPrivate Real Estate Deals

Historical Returns: Farmland vs. Real Estate

When evaluating any investment vehicle, looking back at historical performance is essential. While this does not necessarily present a prediction of future returns, it's helpful to know how investments have fared in the past.

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

While this only scratches the surface of comparing the two asset classes, this is often the first question on investors' minds.

Investors should remember that during this period, the economy experienced the “Great Recession” in 2008. While this greatly impacted commercial real estate, farmland was much less affected. This is for several reasons.

First, the need for individuals to eat is independent of market conditions. Whether the economy is booming or in a recession, families still need to put food on the table.

Next, it's much harder for tenants to pick up and leave. Farmers are one of the best tenants to have because it's challenging for them to relocate. You're pretty much locked into one plot of land for good.

Generally, the returns generated from farmland would be more consistent than those of commercial real estate. For example, from year to year, commercial real estate has experienced 8.2% volatility on average, whereas farmland has only seen 6.7%.

This results from several factors, including the differing risk profiles for these asset classes and how returns are generated.

AcreTrader Returns vs Volatility

How Returns Are Generated

Farmland returns can come from three sources: capital appreciation, rental income, and crop profits.

Traditional real estate returns come from these two sources: capital appreciation and rental income.

With both farmland and commercial real estate, investors can impact the value of their investment through improvements. For example, when purchasing a building, you can renovate and modernize it to raise rent and sell it for more than you paid.

When it comes to farmland, your options are somewhat different. Many farmland investors will convert their land into more efficient or productive use. For example, converting conventional farmland into organic farmland can make the land more than 4x as profitable!

1. Capital Appreciation

Capital appreciation occurs when a piece of farmland or real estate is sold for more than it was purchased. For example, over time, farmland tends to appreciate, so when it is held for a period of years, it can typically be sold for more than it was bought for.

The typical timeline for most farmland investments is 5+ years.

The same is true historically for physical real estate. However, it is far more susceptible to “boom” and “bust” cycles.

2. Rental Income

Rental income is received from the farmer who is renting the land. Generally, this tends to amount to a 3% – 9% cash yield per year. Farmers typically pay rent once per year.

In the case of commercial real estate, this is rent payments coming from tenants. However, current economic circumstances have made this a more risky business model due to widespread eviction moratoriums.

3. Crop Profits

Crop profits are occasionally structured as part of the payment to farmland owners. In some cases, the landowner will also own the farm and participate in all the profits. In other cases, the farmer may pay the landowner a  portion of the crop for a lower rent.

Sorry commercial real estate investors, this is not something you will benefit from while owning a rental building unless you start a rooftop garden!

Risks: Farmland vs. Real Estate

Commercial real estate and farmland investors share many of the same risks. This is because both investments involve the purchase of real estate. The key differences come in the types of tenants each has and how outside factors play into the equation.

farmland tractor

Tenant Risks

When it comes to commercial real estate, the types of tenants run far and wide. As a result, there is serious variety, from high-growth startups to Fortune 100 companies to mom-and-pop shops. Farmland, on the other hand has one tenant: farmers.

The primary risk posed by commercial real estate tenants is that they will need help paying rent. Depending on the tenant and various economic factors, this could happen for several reasons. For example, during recessions, there tends to be a surge in evictions and tenants unable to pay rent.

With farmland, recessions are much less likely to prevent rent from getting paid. However, there are still several factors that can make farmers difficult tenants.

A farmer's income will depend almost entirely on the yearly harvest. Therefore, if something happens to disrupt the crop, this could significantly impact their ability to pay rent. Three of the most common threats to the harvest are weather, disease, and insects.

Farmland owners often charge cash rent before planting season to reduce these risks. This ensures that rent will be paid regardless of the year's harvest.

Interest Rate Risks

Both farmland and commercial real estate owners face interest rate risk. This is the risk that increasing interest rates will lower the value of future cash flows. When this happens, both types of investors can see the value of their properties fall.

We have been in a prolonged period of low-interest rates. When this changes in the future, higher interest payments on loans and mortgages will almost certainly eat into profits. While you can increase rents to offset, that could push your tenants out.

Environmental Risks

Another shared risk for both types of investors is environmental risk. This is typically a more significant factor for farmland investors, who could see their investment returns dry up with low-quality soil or overuse of pesticides.

Commercial real estate investors experience environmental risk differently. For them, it has more to do with land-use regulations and environmental legislation. For example, when investors purchase older buildings, they run the risk of new laws deeming their properties in violation. When this happens, the cost of updating the building can be significant.

Other Risks

Some risks are unique to farmland investing that would not ordinarily apply to commercial real estate investing.

Examples of this include:

  1. Weather Risk – If a drought or hail storm destroys your crop.
  2. Pest Risk – An invasive bug destroys your field.
  3. Regulatory Risk – Government subsidies for farmers can come and go.

Tax Advantages: Farmland vs. Real Estate

One of the reasons many investors are drawn to real estate is the significant tax benefits real estate investors receive. However, there also exist several tax benefits specific to farmland investors.

commercial real estate

Tax Benefits Of Commercial Real Estate

For commercial real estate investors, here are the most common tax advantages:

  1. 1031 Exchange – Allows investors to sell an investment property and immediately buy another without recognizing their gain. This allows investors to continue to delay paying taxes on their gains indefinitely.
  2. Opportunity Zone – Areas deemed as opportunity zones typically fall in low-income areas of cities. If investors hold property in these areas for 5+ years, they can reduce and potentially eliminate their capital gains.
  3. Depreciation – The most widely known tax benefit of real estate investing. Allows investors to write off a portion of their investment each year.

Tax Benefits Of Farmland

For farmland investors, here's the common benefits tax wise:

  1. Depreciation of Crops – Certain crops like grapes and nuts are allowed to be depreciated as well as farm equipment and improvements to the land.
  2. Land Conservation Trust – By declaring the land a land conservation trust, an investor can achieve favorable property tax rates in every state.

How To Purchase: Farmland vs. Real Estate

In the past, it was very difficult for the everyday investor to purchase either of these asset classes.

With innovations in fintech, the barrier to entry for both farmland and commercial real estate has fallen dramatically.

You can invest in both farmland and commercial real estate via a REIT or real estate investment trust, however this comes with a few downsides.

REITs tend to be heavily correlated with the overall stock market. So, if stocks take a dive, you better expect REITs to follow suit. They also tend to have lower overall returns than other types of real estate investments. They are, however, the most liquid investment.

How To Purchase Farmland

When it comes to purchasing farmland, investors have two main options. Either they can choose to buy farmland directly, REIT or go through a crowdfunding site.

Buying A Farm Directly

To purchase farmland directly, the process will be somewhat similar to buying a home. You'll likely want to work with a real estate agent to facilitate the deal, and a bank to provide financing. After purchasing a plot of land, it will be your responsibility to find a tenant to rent the land. This is typically not an easy task.

Buying Farmland Via Crowdfunding

The route that most everyday investors instead choose to pursue is going through a crowdfunding platform. These platforms source deals and perform due diligence so investors don't have to.

As an investor, you're able to log on to the platform and browse pre-vetted deals. When you find one you like, you can invest as little as a few thousand dollars into it. That's because the deal is funded by many investors all investing a small portion of the value.

Through this route, you're able to diversify across many parcels of land without significant capital. You're also able to avoid all of the responsibilities that come with managing property.

AcreTrader farmland investing platform

A much easier option than buying a piece of land yourself is to invest via an online farmland investing platform. They handle all of the leg work and rental agreements for you.

Consider AcreTrader for example:

  • The minimum investment per deal is around $10,000
  • A team of experts source the deals and manage everything for you
  • You can pick and choose specific farms to invest in

If that interests you, click here to view the current offerings on AcreTrader!

How To Purchase Commercial Real Estate

Investing in commercial real estate typically takes one of three forms: direct, crowdfunded, or REIT.

Direct Investment

Direct investing in commercial real estate is very similar to direct investing in farmland.

You'll likely work with a real estate agent specializing in commercial and find a bank willing to lend on commercial. Then it will be your responsibility to fill your building with tenants.

Crowdfunded Investment

The crowdfunding route for commercial real estate is also very similar to that of farmland. The main difference here is that your options for platforms to choose from are much greater.

That's because crowdfunded commercial real estate has been around for much longer.

Farmland & Commercial REITs

Investing in commercial real estate through a REIT is an option that will be attractive to many lower net worth investors. That's because the barrier to entry is even lower than crowdfunding.

Typically with crowdfunding, you'll need at least a few thousand dollars to invest in each deal. Some REITs allow investors to get started with as little as $20.

Investing in a REIT or “real estate investment trust” is very similar to investing in a stock in a number of respects. With a REIT, you're purchasing a share of a company that exclusively owns real estate. Similar to stocks, these shares trade on major exchanges throughout the day and fluctuate in price.

As a REIT owner, you are entitled to dividends from the REIT. Legally, REITs must pay out at least 90% of their profits to shareholders as dividends.

Most REITs will specialize in a certain type of real estate like shopping malls or apartment complexes. This allows investors to make some decisions about their investment, but for the most part, you're not going to exercise much control over a REIT investment.

This is a sponsored promotion for the AcreTrader platform. Farmland Riches, LLC and it's members may have investments in companies represented on the AcreTrader platform. This informational post is by no means a promotion, solicitation, or recommendation of any specific investment.

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Each parcel is divided into shares, and investors can purchase shares to earn cash distributions as well as benefit from the land value appreciation.

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