Farmland: the asset that's better than gold

For centuries, gold has been a hedge against economic crisis, inflation, or currency collapse. But there's one asset that can outperform it, says Chris Mayer. Here, he looks at the returns you can get from agricultural land.

Between 1941 and 2002, average US farmland values outpaced the growth of inflation by 2%.

In fact, some call farmland as good as gold with yield because you clock in steady income from rents while you wait for the value to grow. I can think of no better asset to own during any kind of financial crisis.

In some ways, farmland is even better than gold or silver. At least farmland is an intrinsically useful thing. It provides a tangible yield in the form of good things from the earth. We all have to eat. As consumers trim their sails, they'll give up a lot before they give up their calorie intake.

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Governments, particularly in times of crisis like now have a tendency to flood the system with money in an attempt to "goose" the economy. Mostly, such efforts have succeeded in destroying the value of the currency in question.

Anyway, if you believe that we will continue to feel the bane of inflation, then farmland's performance in the 1970s will give you some comfort... While you lost half of your money in the S&P 500, your farmland kept its value nicely. Again, I think that's rooted in the fact that farmland is intrinsically useful. It produces useful and needed things.


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Now imagine what farmland might do in today's climate, in which you have not only the likely prospect of inflation, but also a tightening supply of farmland and rising demand for crops. You have biofuels eating up more of our grain supply. I imagine you'll do quite a bit better than in the 1970s.

Farmland treated British investors great just last year. As British housing prices collapsed in 2008, British farmland value rose by 21%. Over the last five years, Brit farmland rose a total 135%. Forget commercial property. That's not a bad ROI in my book.

And there's one more way to look at it: This hedge can outperform gold. In Britain, the farmer outpaced the gold owner. Expanding land values rode up 115% since 1983, versus gold at 81%. You can be sure institutional investors are already placing their long-term bets. Almost half the farmland bought there last year was snapped up by banks and funds.

The obvious investment conclusion: If you're worried about the dollar, the economy, or any other problem, buy farmland today. This is hard to do directly through the stock market... so I encourage you to consider a private deal. You can play agriculture through companies that manufacture irrigation equipment, produce fertiliser, or operate grain-handling facilities.

Check these investments out soon. I think we're in for broad farmland/agriculture rally that should be good for hundreds of percent returns. As you can see from farmland's past results, it's a great hedge in all kinds of environments.

This article was written for DailyWealth by Chris Mayer, editor of the monthly financial advisory newsletter Capital & Crisis .