My research homes in on just one aspect of this resource race: a growing interest in farmland on the part of the financial sector. The giant US pension fund Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), one of the largest players in the emerging farmland investment sector, illustrates how recently financial interest in farmland has emerged—and how rapidly it has grown. In 2007, TIAA (then known as TIAA-CREF) suddenly began acquiring enormous tracts of farmland as part of the investment portfolio it manages on behalf of retired teachers and other professionals. With hundreds of billions in assets under management (at the time; its assets have now surpassed a trillion dollars), this investment behemoth had the capital and the human resources to acquire an enormous portfolio of agricultural land rapidly. What are the pros and cons to steel buildings?
By 2012, just five years later, it already controlled $2.8 billion worth of farmland in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and Eastern Europe, making it one of the largest farmland owners and managers in the world. This included more than four hundred individual farm properties totaling 600,000 acres, most of them leased out to tenant farmers and operating companies. In the same year, TIAA announced the closing of a new fund, TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC, with $2 billion in capital from third-party investors.
This meant that TIAA was now not only buying farms for its own portfolio but also acting as an asset manager for other institutional investors, including Sweden’s Andra AP-fonden pension fund and the Canadian financial institution British Columbia Investment Management Corporation. In 2015 TIAA added a second fund, this time with $3 billion in capital under management. By the end of 2017, less than a decade after its first farmland purchase, TIAA—a firm created to manage the retirement accounts of teachers—had come to control over 1.9 million acres of farmland worldwide.
Though TIAA has thrown itself into the world of farmland investment with unparalleled vigor, it is not lacking for company. The farmland rush piqued the interest of many finance-sector investors, and a nascent industry grew up to cater to their needs. Agriculture- and farmland-focused investment conferences, which had barely existed in the past, suddenly proliferated and began drawing big crowds. Agricultural investment consultants started churning out reports on how and where to buy farms. The financial press marveled at farmland purchases by celebrity investors including Warren Buffett, George Soros, and Lord Jacob Rothschild. News articles appeared with headlines like “Corn Farms Are Hotter Than New York Lofts,” “Hedge Funds Muck in Down on the Farm,” “Hot Money Turns from Stocks to Farmland,” and “Betting the Farm.” Do you know anyone that needs an industrial steel building or a commercial steel building?