A farmland investor, like a hedge fund investor, can make large sums of money if he is extremely knowledgeable and lucky, or he can get wiped out if he doesn’t know what he is doing and is unlucky.
Buying land for farming, at the right price and terms, is just the initial step in a very complex investment scheme. After acquiring the land, the right crop must be planted, operating expenses must be controlled, the weather must cooperate, and the price for the crop (which is really nothing more than a commodity) at harvest must be favorable. If all of these “moving parts” (many of which are beyond the control of the farmer) aren’t lined up favorable, the losses can be staggering.
Suppose a farmer paid $7,000 per acre for 500 acres of irrigated farm land, and during a five year period made a profit of $200 per acre one year, broke even the second year, and lost $300 per acre, $100 per acre, and $500 per acre for the last three years. Simple mathematics reveals he would be down, over the five year period, the equivalent of $700 per acre. This means his 500 acre farm would have had to increase in value 10% just for him to break even.
So if farming relies, in part, on land increasing in value in order to show a profit, why not simply invest in cheap land and forget all the expenses and complex operations required in farming? Instead of investing $3.5 million for an improved 500 acre irrigated farm that requires additional capital and operations, wouldn’t it make more sense to use the same $3.5 million to purchase 14,000 acres of cheap, dry prairie land for $250 per acre? Thus, at the end of five years, if the 14,000 acres increased in value by 10%, the $350,000 increase would be pure profit (and not required just to “break even”)!
Anyone interested in becoming a farmland investor might be well served to at least analyze the merits and simplicity of investing in large tracts of cheap land instead!
Note: This article is not intended as an in-depth review of farming operations and profit potentials; rather it is a reminder that farming operations always require greater capital and greater financial risks than does the activity of simply owning cheap land and relying on time and inflation to cause higher values.