Carter Malloy thinks that lucrative investments include dirt, some seeds, maintenance, and growth — literally. So, he founded Fayetteville, Arkansas-based AcreTrader, an online farmland investment platform.
AcreTrader wants to lower the barrier of farmland ownership for people who aren’t experts in investing in the field to begin with. Malloy calls it a Robinhood for buying farmland.
AcreTrader is trying to solve the traditionally cumbersome process it takes to acquire a piece of land. Historically, Malloy said, people have to acquire a piece of land which could cost millions. Land-buyers will either have deep pockets or acquire the land from family. After that, buyers have to go to a farm broker, do due diligence, and learn how to work with the farmers who will work on the land.
“Farmland has provided 11 to 12 percent average annual returns for nearly 30 years,” he said. “With much less volatility and price swings than other asset classes.’
The AcreTrader platform connects buyers, like individual investors, family offices, or investment funds, to farmland that is available for purchase. AcreTrader incorporates each property it acquires under an LLC, and then users are able to buy shares of that entity. Think of shares in terms of acres, so 20 shares could be 2 acres of land.
If you want to sell the shares of your land, AcreTrader has a marketplace for you to do that. But, since land has a long-term investment benefit, the company recommends holding ownership of land between 3 to 10 years, based on the property.
AcreTrader vets land properties before buying them, accounting for factors like soil quality, irrigation methods, or the history of annual crop rotation. Malloy claims the platform analyzes over 100 points of data from the farms.
The startup is currently focused on buying and selling property on the West Coast and Midwest. The farmland isn’t from the expensive rolling fields of Napa Valley, but instead “less trafficked” land, like an almond farm in Tulare, California or a soybean plain in Kankakee, Illinois.
Once a customer purchases a vetted piece of land, AcreTrader takes care of land maintenance so the onus isn’t on the buyer to learn how to grow a harvest or maintain the land. It does so through a team of dedicated farmland experts, who manage hundreds of millions of dollars of farmland and check in with farmers on a weekly basis.
“It becomes a truly passive investment,” Malloy said.
AcreTrader makes money from the real estate brokerage fees when it buys land from a seller, or in this case, a third-party farmer that pays “rent” to the company.
In December, ProducePay picked up up $190 million in debt financing for a purchase program for farmers. While the company isn’t a direct competitor of AcreTrader, it could actually operate complementary to it. ProducePay helps farmers afford the “lumpy revenues” that come with the growing season, and works as a middle man between distributors, growers and grocers.
Along with charging farmers, the company also charges an annual management fee of 0.75% to 1% to oversee land from a buyer.
AcreTrader today announced that it raised an oversubscribed $5 million seed round led by RZC investments, with participation from Revel Partners.
Malloy grew up in a farming family, and he’s witnessed his father buy and sell land over the years. He said it’s led to him believing strongly in the consistency and risk-adjusted returns of farmland. As the world enters a time of economic uncertainty, Malloy’s belief in the slow and steady might echo with more people than ever before.