Farmland: An Overlooked Opportunity

01/26/2015 7:00 am EST

Focus: REITS

Jason Simpkins

, Outsiders Club

Over the past decade, US farmland has outpaced every other major asset class; indeed, farmland investments have returned about 12% annually, topping gold, property, stocks, bonds, and commodities, observes Jason Simpkins, contributing editor to Outsider Club.

It's not hard to understand why, either. There are about 7 billion people on the planet right now. And in just 35 more years, there will be nearly 2.5 billion more mouths to feed.

Yet, in that time, the amount of available farmland will be cut nearly in half. Furthermore, no matter how bad things get, people still need to eat. So if the stock market or the economy crashes, farmland holds its value.

Still, for some strange reason, farmland is often overlooked as an investment. There are just 36 agricultural investment funds, with $15 billion under management, compared to 144 funds focused on infrastructure (with $89 billion in assets) and 473 targeting real estate (with $163 billion).

As a result, the entire sector is underinvested. That's certainly not something you can say about stocks or even property right now. So how can you take advantage?

One way to go would be a public fund, such as Gladstone Land Corp. (LAND) or Farmland Partners Inc. (FPI).

These are real estate investment trusts that invest in real estate directly, through property or mortgages. They also receive special tax considerations and tend to deliver higher yields.

LAND owns $113 million worth of farmland in Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon, and Michigan, which it rents to farmers and corporations.

As the cost of food and the value of farmland rise, so too does the amount of rent LAND charges. That means higher payouts for investors. The stock currently yields 3.4%.

FPI is focused on row crops—like corn and soybeans—in Illinois, Nebraska, and Colorado. It also acquires properties related to farming, such as grain storage facilities, grain elevators, feedlots, processing plants, and distribution centers, as well as livestock farms or ranches.

You might also consider Alico Inc. (LCO) and Limoneira Co. (LMNR).  These are land management companies.

Alico operates 130,000 acres of land in Central and Southwest Florida, where it produces citrus and sugarcane and provides land to cattle ranchers. And Limoneira is a California-based company that produces lemons and avocados.

Despite their outsized importance as food producers, these are relatively small companies with a lot of room to grow.

The bottom line is this: The population is growing. The demand for food is rising. And there's only so much land available. Regardless of what happens in the short-, or even medium-term, these stocks are going to go up. Because by 2050, we're going to have to feed two billion more people.

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