The following interview comes from the November 3rd #TechTuesday episode of the AgNewsDaily podcast with Delaney Howell and Ashton Carr.
For today's hashtag Tech Tuesday interview joined today by Steven Brockshus, Founder of FarmlandFinder. Steven, we've had you on the podcast before but it's been a little while for those of our listeners that are not familiar with FarmlandFinder, give us the “10,000-foot view” for your company.
It's great to be on again! At FarmlandFinder, we are building an online marketplace for farmland where we can connect landowners directly when they're looking to buy land, sell land, or access more acres and grow their farming operation. It's really exciting when we look at introducing technology into the farmland transactional process. Traditionally, it's done by word of mouth and it's done offline. As we see a lot of trends moving towards more absentee land ownership and farmers wanting more creative ways to expand their land base, online technology really can fill a lot of needs. It's exciting times as we look at making farmland transactions online and really excited to be on the podcast today.
You've been working on some things since the last time you were on the podcast and that is including the FarmlandFinder Offers Platform. Why don't you tell us a little bit more about that addition?
The offers platform came from an experience I had growing up on a fifth-generation family dairy farm. Our family has always looked to expand our acres as we've grown our operation. Throughout my lifetime, it's always been a challenge to access more acres, whether that's to rent or to buy. We've seen this need in recent years for farmers who are looking to expand to be able to access land that might be available for sale on the market. They also sometimes need to partner with an investor so that they can expand their farming operation without taking on additional debt, and still having a really strong balance sheet. What FarmlandFinder Offers does is it enables farmers to expand their footprint, whether they're directly buying or if they'd like to get partnered with an investor to expand their acres, they can do that as well.
There's a lot of benefits for farmers directly. But then, as we know, almost 45% of farmland is owned by absentee landowners, and a lot of these folks, their parents owned the land, they grew up on the farm, and now they aren't involved and they live in the cities. And these folks, a lot of times don't know how to navigate this space when they inherit a farm from their parents, and they're trying to understand their options, is now a good time to sell, should I just rent it out? Could I do something different with this land to get a better return? That's what the FarmlandFinder offer platform does, it helps landowners understand their options and, very simply, they can request an offer on their property and receive offers from a private network of verified buyers in as little as a week. When entering into this online platform, you're really it has potential to help a lot of different folks, whether they're farmers, whether they're absentee landowners, really anyone who's looking to buy or sell farmland, the technology can really help them do that.
Steven, you've talked a lot about it from a landowner perspective and maybe it’s the way we've talked about it so far, but it sounds like it caters a little bit more to the landowner. At least this new phase, I suppose you could say, this new portion of the platform sounds like it's really heavily geared towards the landowner. But how does it work from a farmer perspective? Do I have to go in and create an account? Do I message landowners that I potentially would like to buy or rent ground from?
Great question! Any farmer who's listening, I encourage you to go to farmlandfinder.com. If you're looking to grow your operation, simply create what's called a buyer profile. On that buyer profile, you'll indicate where your farmstead is, the type of land that you're looking for, and some parameters around that. Then you can select a couple of options, you can say ‘I'm looking to directly buy farmland’ and then we can connect you directly with potential land that could be for sale in your neck of the woods. Or you can indicate and say ‘I'm open to partnering with an investor to buy land’ and then we'll connect you with an investor to buy some land. Once they've got that land in their ownership, we helped to put in a five-year rental contract so that you have a long term relationship with this landowner so that you can continue to farm you can grow your operation; instead of taking on additional debt, now you've had a partner in your back pocket that you can buy multiple farms with and continue to grow your footprint.
What's really unique is we found this to be really helpful for not only seasoned and experienced farmers that are looking at kind of an alternative to traditional financing, but we've also been able to help a handful of beginning farmers. Talking with a farmer in Indiana, a farmer in Iowa, folks who see it's really capital intensive to buy farmland and get into this industry, but these young farmers have a desire to farm. We're able to connect that young and beginning farmer with an investor so that the investor will buy the farm, the farmer can rent the land from them and they can always do what they've wanted to do, which is to be a farmer. There's a lot of different ways it can help folks, but at the end of the day, when people lean into the technology and try things a little bit differently, they can get different results, which are oftentimes desirable as we look to the future.
Steven, I know quite a few folks who have used FarmlandFinder to connect with potential folks to buy or rent farm ground from, but when you look specifically here, I'm on the website to basically fill out the buyer’s profile and I see some pretty basic questions. But then there's a couple questions I wanted to ask you a little bit more about one of those is ‘How much capital do you have earmarked for the purchase of farmland?’ And the second question is ‘Why are you looking to buy farmland?’ Those are two fields that are required and I'm guessing there was a very specific reason why you included those two questions on the forum? Will you tell us a little bit more about that? You've implied it a little bit, but I just want to dive into that a little bit further.
Every time that a buyer profile is created, one of our land support specialists gets a notification and actually jumps on the phone and talks with that prospective buyer to learn a little bit more about them. What this beginning of the buyer profile is doing by asking, ‘Hey, how much capital Do you have earmarked to purchase farmland over the next 12 months?’ Really, it gives that our team member the ability to understand how much land are you looking to buy. Are you're looking to buy just a small amount of land or a little bit larger amount, so that we know how to partner you with someone that can help buy more land or we can send you properties that might fit your objectives.
The question, ‘why are you looking to buy,’ it's so much fun, getting to see a lot of different reasons. We've seen absentee landowners say, “I've never bought a farm before, I've always heard that it's a really good investment, I remember going to the farm as a kid, I really want to invest in this asset class.’ It's fun to hear those stories when someone says ‘I want to buy because it's my family heritage.’ You know, when we have a beginning farmer we have them saying I want to buy farmland or ‘I want to get into farming because of X, Y or Z, it's something I've always wanted to do it's been a dream of mine’. By getting a little bit of this person's story, a lot of times a checkbox or just a yes, no, or a data entry field doesn't give us the context to understand ‘why’ and the story behind the person. And that's really what we're looking for. When we understand that from the profile, then our system can better connect you as a potential buyer with properties that might actually fit what you're looking for. That's why we asked those types of questions.
Stephen, a lot of the testimonials that are coming across the FarmlandFinder website are really in the Midwest. I just want to clarify, if the offers program and FarmlandFinder is open to you know all 50 states? Or who are you guys serving more specifically?
Great question! We're helping anyone across the United States. With a majority of farmland, almost 60% of farmland in the country is in the Midwest, that is the sweet spot. That's the focus. That's where we've seen the most activity. But even just in the last 24 hours, we've seen some buyers come in from New York, from Texas, from the Central Valley in California. You know, really as a platform, the beauty of it is its technology and it can be accessible to anyone who has a smartphone or an internet connection through their computer. But really the majority of activity will be seen up to this point has been in the midwestern states.
Fantastic! Well, Steven, before we let you go, remind our listeners one more time your new platform, your new addition to your platform, I should say how can they find that if they're interested in buying, renting, or selling farm ground?
Simply go to www.farmlandfinder.com and right on the homepage, you can create a buyer profile or request an offer on your farmland!
Fantastic, well Stephen, thanks again for joining us today! Interesting stuff and congratulations on the next step forward for your business!