Income

Investors in stocks receive income through dividends.  Investors in farmland receive income by renting land to a farmer.  This can be accomplished under two basic arrangements: 

Cash Rent

Under a cash rent arrangement, a tenant (farmer) pays a fixed amount of rent to landlord (land owner) to use the underlying farmland.  Typically, rents are either paid in advance or guaranteed by a letter of credit. 

share crop

Under a share crop arrangement, a landlord (land owner) does not receive a fixed amount of rent from a tenant (farmer) but rather receives a portion of the crop produced on the land.  The farmer bears all input costs, while the land owner receives a portion of the crop (typically 1/3).   

Unlike other real estate, farmland is always 100% rented.  The reason for this is that farmers aggressively seek additional ground to rent.  Most farmers need additional land in order to spread the cost of their equipment over additional acres.

Capital Appreciation

Farmland has an excellent track record of capital appreciation.  According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service ("NASS"), US cropland values per acre have risen from $1,270 an acre in 1997 to $4,090 per acre in 2016.  Within this 20 year period, US cropland has decreased in value in only 2 of 20 years, marking a steady rise in value:

Data Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service QuickStats

Diversification

negative price correlation to stocks and bonds

To provide true diversification, an investor must have a portfolio that contains investments with negative price correlation.  That is, when the price of one falls, the other rises.  Farmland is one of the few assets that have a negative price correlation with stocks and bonds.  Over the years, the low in price of one has been offset by the high in price of the other.  Assembling a portfolio of negatively correlated assets is the only way to achieve true diversification.  An investor may have a thousand different investments but if they have a positive price correlation, there will be no true diversification and reduction of risk.

Global Demand

Image via Views of the World

Population growth

The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100, according to a UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs report, “World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision.”  This surge in population growth is truly astounding and will undoubtedly create increased pressure on the world's food supply.

Image via CNN Money

Image via CNN Money

population by country

As of 2015, China and India lead world population with 1.4 and 1.3 billion people, respectively.  India is expected to overtake China by 2022 and grow to a staggering 1.7 billion people by 2050, with China not far behind at 1.4 billion people.  Another important area of note is the growing populations of Africa.  Due to high fertility rates and improved life expectancy, data shows populations will more than double in 40, mostly African, countries from 2015 to 2050.  These African populations are lead by Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Ethiopia (all top 10 by 2050).  What all of the 2050 top 10 populated countries have in common, aside from the United States and Brazil, is their lack of arable land (cropland) per capita.

Data Source: The World Bank

According to World Development Indicators from The World Bank, the only 2050 top 10 populated countries to have more than 0.50 acres of arable land per capita in 2014 are the United States (1.20 acres per capita) and Brazil (0.96 acres per capita).  Countries with growing populations and a lack of arable land will continue to be dependent upon grain imports from countries with adequate supply, such as the United States and Brazil.  And although Brazil has cemented its place as a major grain producing country along with the US, its infrastructure is far inferior to the US, keeping the United States in the driver's seat when it comes to global grain exports.   

Data Source: The World Bank

Due to continued land development for both residential and commercial uses, arable land has steadily declined from 1961 to 2014.  As of 2014, world arable land stood at only 0.48 acres per capita, down 10% over the past 10 years (2004-2014) and down 45% over the past 50 years (1964-2014).  With world population increasing and crop producing land decreasing, the long term outlook for crop producing US farmland remains strong.