Over the last decade, agriculture has become a coveted sector for financial investment alongside the technology sector; similar to the place that was formerly occupied by the fossil fuels industry. Because of demographic and societal dynamics, both agriculture and energy are regarded as consistent industries with a low correlation to traditional stock markets cycles. Likewise, energy and agriculture have the potential to provide higher yields than the interest rates currently prevailing in the bond markets in western countries. Similar to the energy sector, food and agriculture are indispensable goods for the world to function. However, unlike the fossil fuels market, food is not easily replaced by alternative resources. Therefore, agriculture serves to diversify portfolios and provide yields even during tough economic times.

Profiting from Unique Agricultural Opportunities

Over the last several months, fund managers and financiers have pointed to the advantage of holding real and tangible assets. Appreciating assets include precious metals, such as gold, as well as real estate, both of which can provide high yields. Chief within the real estate category are foreign investments and agriculture. Foreign investments are coveted because of the still sluggish housing market in the United States and farmland because of its productive value. There are, however, several key elements and differences to be considered when investing in agriculture. Understanding these characteristics allows investors to properly diversify their portfolios and benefit from higher yields.

Two of the instruments available to invest in the agriculture industry are Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and, a variant of these, exchange traded notes. Agricultural ETFs normally own commodities or track the performance of commodity indexes, such as corn and coffee. Though useful instruments, the main shortcoming of ETFs is that they do not capitalize on a great ensemble of agricultural products, particularly the niche foodstuffs that benefit from high growth. Representing commodities or agricultural tools, such as tractors and plows, traditional ETFs do not benefit from the growth across the whole food and farmland industry.

While agricultural commodities and inputs have shown some resilience and experienced growth over the last decade, the fast growing agriculture industry goes beyond extensively cultivated row crops, such as wheat and soybeans. Amongst the most lucrative agricultural products are nuts, fruits, and other niche products geared towards specific sectors of the consumer goods market. In this regard, Farmland Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) have a higher potential to benefit from and reflect the gains of both row crops as well as permanent crops. Though relatively limited in US exchanges, Farmland REITs do represent a wide spectrum of agricultural products from strawberries and avocados to corn and cattle. One of the main issues with the two financial instruments mentioned above is that they focus on domestic US production and farmland. Furthermore, because farmland is relatively new to the financial markets and because of their small market size of under US$200 million market-cap, REITs and ETFs experience liquidity and price stability issues. Having low trading volumes, agricultural ETFs and REITs are exposed to significant changes in price provoked by relatively small transactions of three or four-thousand shares.

(Read more about Agribusiness and Trade in Panama’s Economy)

Subscribe to Growth Stories, a weekly newsletter with the latest insights and opportunities you need to become a successful farmland owner.