Want To Invest In Farmland? Here's How

Wow, just wow.
Get on YouTube and search “Rain on the Scarecrow,” by John Cougar Mellancamp. Listen to it a few times, pour a whiskey, and then listen to this podcast again.
This was a hard one to listen to today. I was driving to my fourth emergency call of the day at 5 pm, we’ll call him “Bobby V.” He’s 89 years old, and quit shipping milk three years ago when he ran out of feed for his cows in February. No way to “Increase the value of the crop” on a cow pasture in Maine in winter.
I’ve been a large animal vet for 17 years, and I’ve lost almost twice as many farm clients as I currently do work for. A few lucky ones have quit farming of their own accord; they got old, no “retirement account” besides the farmland they grew up on, and none of their kids want to take over the hard work of feeding America for low pay. Quite a few have been forced out; either get out now and still own most of your home farm, or borrow a bunch of money for the privilege of losing it all to Farm Credit or FSA in a few more years. I’ve lost two to suicide: big debt, big life insurance payout to free up the wife and kids, two to farm accidents - sucked into a baler or hit a moose on the way to milk, four to cancer: either a lifetime of tobacco use or a lifetime of sucking back spray material on an open-station tractor, trying to keep ahead of the bugs and weeds like the Cooperative Extension used to preach, three have burned out and couldn’t afford to rebuild with what the insurance company offered them after the fire. Every single one of those farmers was a father or mother, a husband or wife, an employer, a tax-paying, joke-telling, machine-fixing, calf-saving, hard-working American.
This has been an exceptionally shitty week. One of my top three accounts, a big family farm that’s milked registered Holsteins for 85 years, sent numerous bulls into the AI stud books, had the top milk bull in the WORLD for a while, and has my youngest daughter’s 4H projects milking in their high group… is gonna sell out this year, maybe this spring. I heard that two of the little Amish farms in my hometown are getting done this month, leaving only four farms shipping milk up there on the Canadian border, an hour north of the next farm on the truck. Three other farms in Maine are selling out this spring. We don’t know how many farms we need here to support the infastructure, but we know there is a number, and once we go below that line, we’re all done. Kinda like kidney failure. We can function fine on 26% kidney function… don’t even know we’re sick… but once we drop below half of a kidney, it’s dialysis or death. No dialysis for farms.
This interview made me sick to listen to. Adam and this Ivory-Tower, Wall Street Plutocrat bantering back and forth about how farmland is an “Investor’s Dream,” because 40% is leased, but only 14% is borrowed out on (so it’s ‘under-leveraged…’), and yet only 1% is institutionally owned… so it’s not a crowded space… not very many people are invested in it. And then the icing on the cake… when the dude says close to the end of the puke-fest “we force farmers to subscribe to an antiquated model of asset ownership…” Wait… like that one that Thomas Jefferson described as a “nation of yoeman farmers?” No… I must have that quote wrong. He said something about a nation of tenant farmers right? That’s a complete crock of shit. Every single piece of farmland this guy buys up with your money is a piece of ground that a real farmer isn’t gonna own. Some poor share-cropper is gonna run cattle on it when the investors say that’s the best use, or some poor tractor jockey is gonna plant dryland wheat and pay ridiculous land rent because he’s gotta make his combine payment.
This is feudalism. Pure and Simple. Some rich guy in a high rise who doesn’t know the difference between a moldboard and a chisel plow, but heard a podcast about “creating value” is gonna send him a bunch of money, and price some poor farmer actually out of the game. My three year old son knows the diffence between a moldboard and a chisel, because it matters to him. He lives here, and when he sees a picture of a tanker truck in a kids book he calls it a “Manure Truck,” because that’s what it is to him. When the folks that own the land have actually no connection to it, we’re screwed as a society. When it’s seen as an “asset class,” and not as ground, as a piece of the Earth, as a part of a community, a way to make a living feeding our country… we’re screwed.
The road I grew up on had 11 families making a living from the land, growing potatoes and grain in the early 1980s… today the whole town has two potato farmers and four Amish dairymen. The whole town has two potato farmers. Two. Most of their gross income goes to Farm Credit to pay for the land they bought, or to John Deere Credit to pay for the machinery to work it. Live poor and Die rich, that’s the farmer’s motto. Until this dude and his money show up, then its gonna be Live Poor, Die Poor. As long as the families owning the land also lived there, they would also have an investment in the town, in the community. When was the last time this guy was on the school board in a place his 15,000 acres of asset class was domiciled in? Does he shop at the same stores as the folks who harvest his 1,500 acres of wine grapes? Does he know their names, or their kids names, or how their only son died on a snowmobile when he went through the ice on Moosehead Lake in Maine in 1982, or how they saw an omen of that on the way to the Blue Hill Fair earlier that summer, but didn’t know it?
I bet not.
For those who don’t have a connection to the land, here’s a taste. Here’s a picture of the wreck of the farm that Bobby V used to ship milk out of, and a picture of him holding a bottle of calcium, saving the life of his last cow, the only living daughter of his best cow. Here’s a real person who’s life has been wrecked by the forces that make a great return for this FarmLand LLC guy.
If you truly want to invest in farmland, either do what Chris and Evie did, and buy some land to farm yourself, or go to your local farmer’s market once a week. See who does a good job there, and then after a few months, go ask if you can help them this summer. Spend your time off in their barn or fields, get some callouses and a sunburn, and an appreciation for what it takes to feed you. Then ask that farmer how you can help them with an investment.
That’s an investment that works for the world.
This one is no different than a share of Tesla, it just makes you feel better in a hollow kind of way.


Wow…Thanks for that insight, Simon & Aliza. Much to ponder and reflect on. Vote with your dollars…indeed. Aloha, Steve.

“To husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve. Old usage tells us that there is a husbandry also of the land, of the soil, of the domestic plants and animals - obviously because of the importance of these things to the household. And there have been times, one of which is now, when some people have tried to practice a proper human husbandry of the nondomestic creatures in recognition of the dependence of our households and domestic life upon the wild world. Husbandry is the name of all practices that sustain life by connecting us conservingly to our places and our world; it is the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us.
And so it appears that most and perhaps all of industrial agriculture’s manifest failures are the result of an attempt to make the land produce without husbandry.”
Wendell Berry

Simon & Aliza
Thank you very much for your posting.
America is rapidly turning into a land of feudalism via “investors.”
I would add that the investment (but dont know shit about the land) class needs a return. Even if that return is long term (can wait 5 years) they will still damage the land compared to a farmer who`s family has lived there for ages and is concerned about increasing the soil for future generations. The idea that a “corporation” funded by investors in America cares about the land long term or anything else comparable to a family farm is just sick. Family and close friends is true wealth and security and cannot be replaced by a handful of paper, printed by financial overlords. We need to rediscover this source of true wealth as we enter the American dark age.
Dark ages have arrived and we need to do something about it…
I wish that PP would be an antidote and not facilitate this process.
I miss Chris.

Thank you for your very moving post. It is a sad reflection of the world we now live in that everything has to give a monetary return to be deemed worthy of space on this planet - including all of the wildlife and us.

Its not a good way. If you’re going to invest in farmland, actually owning the land yourself and farming is half the compensation. I get paid partially in views. Farming is the human in a natural relationship with his environment. Ive always looked at farming as, if money was no object what would I do? I’d live a balanced life, close to nature, where my actions became an integral part of my surroundings. The man, the soil, the wildlife, the timber, the crops, and the livestock become interwoven and indistinguishable. Yes there is a profit motive. Thats part of the human condition, but its only PART.
To financialize the thing and discard the greater part of what farming is in search of profit is an absurdity. Its throwing out the baby to save the bathwater.
Think of it like this; Whats the purpose of money? You want money to improve the quality of your life. Well, if you sacrifice all the ways of living a quality life to making money…then the money has no value and you’ve just swallowed your feet to feed your stomach.

I hear Bill Gates is into owning farmland too.
And if Gates does it, that definitely puts a “check” in the “neo-feudalist” box for me.

That’s spot on.
It’s why I’ve adopted a young farming couple. They’re meat farmers - chicken, beef, lamb, and occasionally pork. In their 30s, 2 small children, managing to get all their income from the farm, increasingly by selling directly and cutting out the bulk sales to stores and most restaurants. They were lucky to be heading down that path because Covid didn’t hit them as hard as it did many others who were more dependent on the healthy food store sales and restaurant consumption and farmers markets.
I could produce meat chickens myself now, and used to do, and this summer I will start reclaiming and building a field for lamb raising - but I keep thinking I’d rather buy from them as long as I can because it’s a win-win for them and us, and a net win for Vermont and the USA. Aside: buying directly off the farm keeps my prices competitive with stores, for much better quality meat from animals who’ve lived well and died easily. And it helps a young farm family to thrive.
So I’ve been driving an hour and 30 to their farm a couple times a year for almost 2 years to stock up. Last summer I retired my chicken tractors for awhile. On my most recent run a month ago I asked how they’re doing. She smiled, said it’s growing - and growing better with the arrival of Covid because more people are paying attention to what they eat and looking for ways to end-run the commercialized food industry and its market economy. And their network has grown enough to make them increasingly visible - the network effect is taking hold.
It’s a success story in the midst of too many other stories of Vermont dairies and especially sheep farms closing down, with vegetable and beef growers falling in behind. And so much of the disaster has to do with well-intentioned but absolutely stupid public policy decisions made by Montpelier politicians who know nothing about farming and wholistic land use, but rely on eco-warriors for professional advice - who themselves don’t live on or from the land. Add in the destruction of the meaning of “organic” by the corporate ag takeover of the USDA and its organic standards advisory board, and the prospects for well-run family farms and the Jeffersonian understanding of what allows for people to be truly free - that is, yeomanry and land tenure - is on its last legs.
None of us can save every family farm. But many of us can adopt one farm that is practicing agriculture the way we do, or would, and help them remain viable for as long as it takes to weather this American age of stupidity. That and a few acres of one’s own, to live on and learn to husband, make for good investments and good insurance, imo.

The view from the other side of the pasture fence is a whole lot different than I thought it would be. We are coming into our 9th year as a small grower, we run the small local Farmers Market and have been the big dog, at any other market we would be small potatoes.
With an eye on Peak Oil we set up a market garden, no till organic, all hand labor, the way I thought we should grow food. From all outside views we look successful, and from all outside views we are, except we are not profitable. We have tried raising beef, broilers, veggies and now fruit, searching for that magic that turns a buck.
The garden has connected us to our community, we get invited to every party in town, we have friendships that are deeper than any I have previously found. Life is rich and I have watched every sunset and sunrise for the last 12 years. Daylight savings comes and goes around the rhythm of the farm.
We compete here with produce that comes out of Mexico and we try to do it by hand. Our friends and neighbors recognize quality and do pay a premium, and it is not enough to compensate.
So here is my worry going forward, land is out of reach for a young farmer, many I know are leasing. As big ag continues to get big or get out, we continue to lose nutrition in our food, we continue to grow in dead soil, we continue as a nation to become less and less healthy. There will be a time when local food is critical and the time to invest in the local farmer is right now.
The ranchers around me are dumping cattle into a down market, we just sold ours as well. This is a young persons business and it takes passion and conviction to make it happen. Most of the ranchers have day jobs to support their ranching habit. While I see youth coming in, I also see youth giving up, dreams are tough to live on.
Big ag is not sustainable in a peak oil world, so far ya just can’t run a tractor on sunshine, I see a food shortage in the works and it will take small farmers to save lives. Just a damned shame they can’t make a living now.
Plant a garden now, this takes time to learn.

My uncle was a dairy farmer. It was in his blood. He worked hard but never had anything to show for it. He never owned land and never had the wherewithal to buy any. Nevertheless he loved it. Eventually he had to take a job as a night watchman to feed his family of six, then farmed during the day. He and his wife took in troubled but affluent kids from the city as a sort of “country experience”. They learned discipline and hard work. Really hard work. Farming back in the fifties was much more laborious. But it was a benefit to the kids and really helped my aunt and uncle make ends meet. I often wonder what became of those rich kids. As a tenant farmer he was at the mercy of nature, the banks, the markets and the landlords. It’s a wonder he held out as long as he did.
I have a memory of him getting mad at the dept. of agriculture for wasting his tax money printing up signs reminding him not to trip over a milk pail. I think he felt it belittled his common sense. Many good memories. God rest his soul.

I have a vision but no way to make it happen, so I will throw it out into universe and maybe someone else can pick it up and run with it.
In my area Pulte a big builder makes DelWebb communities. They are 55+, small lots and have clubhouses, pools, planned activities (cooking classes, wine tasting, fitness) and of course an HOA fee to cover all that. You are buying into a active community of friends to do life with in retirement.
So why not the farm version. Stick 100 homes and townhouses on the edge of a farm. Get the HOA fee to help fund the farm, instead of wine and cheese parties have seed starting parties. Put up a farmers market with discounts to the residents.
Just a thought,

I have read all of the comments. Most lament what has happened to farming in the past several decades. The decline of “family” farms to much larger “corporate” farms is the agricultural version of the labor versus capital shift that has happened in our industry over the same time period. Actually many of the larger farms are family farms, they just have taken over their neighbors farms. No amount of sorrow over the fate of the farm lifestyle will save it until the labor versus capital balance in restored in the rest of our nation.
Farming is hard work, especially on a small farm, and the monetary payoff is low. It is no surprise to me that most (if not all) of the commenters don’t sound as if they have made their living as farmers (which I define as receiving over half your income from farming). About the only people who can afford to farm on a micro or mini scale are those who have made their fortunes elsewhere, can afford to buy the land and equipment, and have the outside resources not to worry about the income they make from their farm. The average person in the US spends less than 5% of their income on food consumed at home which is the lowest percentage in the world so it is no wonder that so little money goes to small farmers who have the lowest sales.
So your choices are a) purchase your own “hobby” farm, b) join a local Coop farm (if there is one), c) support a local small time organic farm, d) support a farm through the previously mentioned Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT (probably a good cause but not such a good investment) or something similar, or e) work to shift the balance between labor and capital and hope to survive until then.

Right on Simon & Aliza! I couldn’t have said it better.
On the brighter side I had a restaurant for a while right across from a university. I hosted a group of Future Farmers Of America when they had a session at the Uni. These kids, I call them kids cause I’m old, stood out head and shoulders from the regular Uni kids. They would walk right up to you, look you square in the eye, introduce themselves and shake your hand. They were genuinely interested in all the info I had compiled on the economics of localization of food production. I even received about a dozen of thank you letters, not emails but handwritten letters.
The whole experience gave me great hope for the future of farming. The number 1 main road block for them is getting their own land without being buried in debt and “investors” is not the answer.
IMO this org deserves all the support we can give;

Alot of people are discussing farming from a business perspective. But there is another perspective in which to view farming, one that is older and more proven. One that has not changed since the dawn of man; farming to feed ones self and one’s family.
This model, [ call it subsistence farming, homesteading, self reliance, etc ] still works. With just a large garden plot, some seeds, hand tools and some work a man might STILL feed his family…indefinitely if he is prudent about seed saving and soil management.
Cutting wood to burn in a wood stove will STILL heat your house, same as it did 200 years ago [ better maybe ]. A small flock of laying hens can be sustained on some corn, sunflower, and your family’s leftovers. If you put some time into candling, and incubating, [ or just get yourself a broody hen ], you might maintain a chicken and egg supply forever with very little inputs.
A good woodlot can pay your property taxes in timber, heat your home, provide game for your table and sugar for your flapjacks.
A good milking cow can provide milk, beef, cheese, butter, and whey for a pig or two. She eats grass, which most country homes in my neck of the woods have plenty of.
Can small farming work as a business? Absolutely, but as others mentioned it is tough. Having a spouse that brings home that extra pay check or having another source of income somewhere is always a good idea.
In my experience [ going on 12 years of farming 180 acres ], it can be done but Ive recently decided that it makes more sense to sell off the land and equipment to a bigger farm and settle into a smaller “homesteading model”. I plan to use farming to support my families needs and to reduce our dependency on money and the crumbling system. Im still farming but adopting what I consider to be a smarter model.

>>> This model, [ call it subsistence farming, homesteading, self reliance, etc ] still works. With just a large garden plot, some seeds, hand tools and some work a man might STILL feed his family…indefinitely if he is prudent about seed saving and soil management.
I’m not sure what model of farming I’m following.
But one thing, probably, that I will need - a chilled area the size of a normal bedroom, to store corn etc. in.
I planted the corn in a single row about 3 plants wide, running in a loop about 400 yards long.
I did that partially to create animal habitat.
I think I may need to clean my fridge, to create space.

Simon and Aliza,
Two points: first thank you for writing. I agree completely. I hope you write more.
Second, I think the larger point is that we have no reverence toward our Mother (Nature). Almost no one cares, or even knows about, soil health. We nurture almost nothing. We extract everything we can from the environment, fill it with toxins, and wonder why we and our kids are sick. We befoul a planet perfectly suited to our needs and dream of years long space travel to a different one as we worship the people advertising this ridiculous vision. We do not deserve to survive - at least in our current modern configuration.

I suspect this will catch me grief but tough luck. Since the inception of Peak Prosperity and even before when it was just Chris Martenson.com, when I started coming here 13 years ago, religion has been zero part of the site. Chris is a data driven, not belief driven information scout, which he has stated numerous times. I’m saddened and offended that someone would be castigated for an opinion here. If this site turns into bunch of religious or woke affirmations or citations, that will be the end of free speech on PP and it will have joined the rest of the United States in First Amendment ignorance.

I suspect this will catch me grief but tough luck. Since the inception of Peak Prosperity and even before when it was just Chris Martenson.com, when I started coming here 13 years ago, religion has been zero part of the site. Chris is a data driven, not belief driven information scout, which he has stated numerous times. I’m saddened and offended that someone would be castigated for an opinion here. If this site turns into bunch of religious or woke affirmations or citations, that will be the end of free speech on PP and it will have joined the rest of the United States in First Amendment ignorance.
I haven't been here nearly so long, but I found the referenced exchange shocking to be honest. Glad you spoke up and called it out.

I’m going to go against the 27 thumbs up (so far) and share a different perspective. I TOTALLY understand the human side. Don’t attach me on this. Let’s talk reality.

After passing through a succession of small towns, each established 150 or more years ago, a relationship suddenly became apparent to me. In the towns surrounded by pine trees, the historic churches were small, modest affairs, generally without steeples. The churches looked poor. But in the towns with maple trees, the churches were invariably grander, with large, ornate steeples attached. Small, modest churches in the poorer soil com-munities; large, ornate churches in the wealthier soil communities. All at once, the saying “dirt poor” took on new meaning to me. https://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1002%2F9781119200918.ch9
Trying to eek out a farming existence in Maine (rank #43 in the US) on (probably) modest soils and poor climate and expecting a good outcome is not realistic. Understand the heart issue. I get it. I am surrounded by farmers and TOTALLY understand their pain. Farming is a tough business. If you go down this path you need to stack the odds in your favor. Start with great soils and abundant water. Great climate is the icing on the cake.

Nate thanks for your post, you are spot on in your assessment of the factors necessary for success in agriculture! The nuance is in the scale required to be successful in today’s hyper financialized world, where we have a complete mismatch of the power of labor vs access to capital (shout outs to all those posts above who referenced those issues). We have the same trouble in ag here as they do in Iowa, just on a different scale. This has allowed us to sneak below the radar for the last 40 years, but there is nowhere to hide from the voracious appetite of the Wall Street monster. They finally noticed us sitting alone up here next to Canada & saw we had something wonderful. Small, but very tasty.
I’ll try to write more and explain when I get done farm calls tonight, but as a placeholder in this super important conversation, I’d like to say that Maine Ag (and forestry) has been a poster child for why a singular focus on one crop or product can make people super rich when it’s good, but leaves no room for resilience. We keep learning that lesson here in Maine and then promptly forget it. Been that way for 200 years now.
Also, we see a bloody short term, but think the medium to long view of ag here is so bright, that our retirement money is almost all in farming here. Community investment as well… not doing things like this podcast referenced, but on a human scale, one farm at a time, hoping to set our future grandkids up to be able to help feed us and the nation on the other side of this Fourth Turning.
Gotta go annoy some cows, we’ll keep talking.