Guest Post: The Case For Owning Farmland (In One Simple Statistic)

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Simon Black of Sovereign Man blog,

In investing, it’s often said that nothing goes up or down in a straight line.

Stocks, bonds, commodities… they all go through periods of growth, correction, collapse, mania, etc.

We’re seeing this right now with respect to a substantial decline in the nominal gold price after more than 12 straight years of gains.

But I’ve just recently come across an investment trend that has posted the same results for more than 20-years straight. And it’s actually quite alarming.

Every human being on the planet requires sustenance… typically measured in Calories per day.

What’s interesting is that the global average of per-capita Calorie consumption has increased a whopping 24.6% since 1964.

So over the last fifty years, the data clearly show that human beings are eating more… now to an average of roughly 2,940 Calories per person per day.

As you can probably guess, most of the rise has taken place in East Asia just over the last two decades, owing to the increased wealth in that part of the world.

Roughly a billion people have been lifted out of poverty in Asia alone. And as people begin to generate income and accumulate savings, their dietary habits have invariably changed. They eat more, i.e. demand more Calories.

As we eat more, we require more resources from the world. And in the case of food, this means more arable land to grow crops.

But there’s another twist to this trend. As people become wealthier, they not only eat more, but they also begin to consume more resource consumptive foods– especially meat.

It takes a lot more land to grow a kilogram of beef than it does to grow a kilogram of tomatoes. The difference can often be an order of magnitude greater.

So when you look at the demand side of this equation, per capita food consumption is increasing… and we are also consuming a vastly greater amount of land-intensive foods.

In short, the global trend is that we are demanding a much greater amount of arable land per person.

Yet the data on the supply side show the precise opposite.

According to World Bank data, the global average of arable land per person has been on a one-way decline since 1992.

In fact, since 1964, there has only been one year that the global average of arable land per person has increased. In every other instance over the last five decades, arable land per person has declined.

This is an astounding trend.

Our modern ‘science’ is stepping in to address this trend. It’s why much of what we eat is now concocted in a laboratory rather than grown on a farm. It’s why McDonalds puts pink slime in its hamburgers instead of… you know… beef.

But even still, science only goes so far.

Yields for many staple crops (like wheat) essentially hit a wall about ten years ago. After decades of miraculous gains in the amount of tons, bushels, and kilograms per acre we have been able to extract from the Earth, productive capacity has largely plateaued.

In other words, we have maxed out what we can pull out of the soil for now. And the amount of soil per person that’s in production is in serious decline.

To me, this spells out an obvious case for investing in agriculture… and even more specifically, to own farmland.


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TeamDepends's picture

Sure, like the average 23 year-old who's glued to their Iphone has the patience for farming.

Pladizow's picture

Supply is scarce, quick run out and buy!

Nice sales pitch but how's that worked out for other commodities?

hedgeless_horseman's picture



In other words, we have maxed out what we can pull out of the soil for now.

Not true. SO much fallow land in Texas it is mind boggling.  In China, they farm the medians of the highways.  HEre, we mow them.

Our cauliflower looks good right now.

I am going to make some cream of cauliflower soup this weekend.

walküre's picture

Where are you farming to be harvesting cauliflower? My fields are covered in snow!

HobbyFarmer's picture

Ok, my 2 cents. Don't invest money in farmland. Instead, invest time/effort improving what you currently have. Plant a garden, add some fruit trees, get some chickens (they are so easy to take care of!), etc on the land you have today. Go small and focus on raising wholesome, delicious food to replace (at least some) of the food from the store.

Few individuals reading this will make money on farming, but everybody reading this can benefit from improving their own yards.

Compost everything! Improve your helps having animals that aren't fed GMO products (my cow provides nearly 100 pounds of compost/urine per day!) but it isn't necessary to have large animals. Learn about permaculture. Plant some fruit and nut trees. Find which types of plants will pull nitrogen into the ground and plant those around your trees (comfrey, alfalfa, clover). These plants will build your soil AND provide food for bees.

Start somewhere and start now. There are steps you can do today, even during winter soltice, that will improve things come spring. It takes nature 100 years to build 1 inch of can speed that process up immensely (and reduce garbage to the landfill) by composting. Good soil holds water, air, nutrients, life and will increase the harvest you get from anything you plant!

We own 4 acres. I consider it a hobby since I work full-time in an office and manage my micro-farming in my spare time. We're able to raise beef cows, a milk cow, pigs, chickens, 10 different fruit trees and dozens of types of veggies. It's my hobby, I do it for fun not for an investment. I do it because it's a great way to raise a family, good exercise, and anything I produce is tax-free. For Christmas this year we are giving hundreds of pounds of beef, hams, bacon, pork chops, jams, pickles, etc to friends, family, and a women's shelter. Doing this is rewarding, but I wouldn't say it's financially lucrative.

If anybody is deluded enough to buy a farm to make money, I worry they terribly underestimate the costs associated with getting it started. I'd suggest to those individuals to go volunteer at a dairy or small farm and see how much they worry about costs....few practicing farmers are rich. I personally know many farmers who work over a hundred hours every single week (dairy farmers-->most have no idea!)...imagine how much they'd make in a consulting job somewhere with those hours....

Start small. With youtube videos of successful permaculture micro-farms along with hundreds of fantastic books on the topic, everybody can begin improving whatever acreage they have today and reduce future reliance on the system.

Worry about Peak Oil? Worry about GMO foods? Worry about dying beehives? Worry about cancer? Proper farming techniques can help solve/alleviate all the ills we have today.

But don't do it because somebody online says there is money to be made owning the farm land.

Z_End's picture

Great post and perspective. Thanks!


SafelyGraze's picture


and yet depressingly overwhelming

walküre's picture

Soil is good but without heat, your best soil won't produce anything. Heat is a commodity we don't value enough imo. If you happen to live on land where heat is year round and you don't have to supply any additional heat or operate greenhouses, you're laughing. The cost of heat = energy is making farming also more difficult. Makes a big difference if you can harvest once, twice or year round. If you need to pay for heat to produce, the market price better support that expense.

HobbyFarmer's picture

sepp holzer using permaculture techniques (ponds, rock walls, hugulkulture, piles of manure) to get past the heat issue....he's at 1500 meters elevation in the Alps, I believe.  His average yearly temperature isn't above 40 degrees but he can grow citrus.

I appreciate your comment and don't want to come off as a dick disagreeing with you...but proper farming techniques can overcome nearly any obstacle. 

I'm looking to add a sunken greenhouse to my wisconsin farm this summer, goal is winter temps in the 50's at night without any outside source of heat. 

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

edited: after re-reading your comment, I realize that I misunderstood your main premise.  I have given an example of somebody who values heat and done extensive work to increase the heat retention of his property.  Plus one to you, sir.

jimmytorpedo's picture

A farm is a place where you use dirt, water and sunshine to create something of value.

Unless it's a server farm where you "mine" digital number sequences which have no intrinsic value.

dark pools of soros's picture

if you say gold has intrinsic value because of its utility, so does bitcoin in its many ways of secure transactions (I said secure, not secret)


to say govs will someday block its utility still doesn't take away its intrinsic nature.   just like if some gov blocks all use of gold and buries every oz... its intrinsic value is just buried then.


bitcoin isn't some collectible pog or whatever..  the blockchain has intrinsic value..  shutting off the grid, or blocking its use just leaves the use untapped.  


bitcoin will be viewed as either a mutation that was cast out or a genesis of something new that grows....just think if you replaced all the recent events of bitcoin and instead go back before the internet and imagine gold was just discovered and before the govs/banks etc all controlled gold...

well..FDR outlawed it after it has been around for 5000+ years, so of course if it was brand new it would be under the same attack as bitcoin is today


One things bitcoin has proved is that most ZH readers will never fight the system..  they may avoid TPTB like rodents, but will never stand up in any 'Give me Liberty or Give me Death' scenario


TheReplacement's picture

Gold relies on nothing to exist.  BTC relies on power, computers, network protocols, ewallets, and so on.  Gold is real.  BTC is virtual.  Gold has utility beyond money, including as a projectile slung from a slingshot to kill game after the world has ended.  BTC does not.  A poor man without a computer but with shelter will trade for gold.  BTC has no value to him.  There is no possible way for the NSA to track gold that is traded person to person.  BTC, not so sure.

Faith, it's what religions are built upon.  BTC is just another faith based system of belief.  We've had a lot of those.  Very few have stood the test of time.  No faith based currency system has ever stood the test of time.  This time is different right?

dark pools of soros's picture

you might need to re-read what I wrote instead of just forcing what you thought I wrote into your broken record response

Jumbotron's picture

It's not the server farm where you grow Shitcoin.....just in case that's what you had in mind.

LOL !!!!

You know how Shitcoin is just like can't eat either one.  But a nicely baked Golden Idaho Potato or one a soup made from those is priceless on a cold winter's night.

Shitcoin.....well.......    LOL !!!    I guess the heat coming from my SLI chained Nvidia Titan GPU's could keep my quite toasty......but I would be hungry as well.

Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

Fonestar, you're MDB. Admit it!

msmith9962's picture

Awesome!  Absolutely.  Sepp Holzer, Paul Wheaton, Fukuoka.  Excellent stuff.


Heat the greanhouse with a rocket mass heater. 

DaveyJones's picture

+ geoff lawton, eliot coleman.

I garden year round in unheated greenhouses and under plastic where the average northwest winter temperature is 40. It hit 14 about a week ago but an extra layer got them through.    

and healthy food fights bankers, oilmen, obamacare and just about everything else 

permacultre is also incredibly efficient, redundant and resilient - like economies should be.

Then again, economies should reflect natural systems not try to control them.  

primates can recognize and eat hundreds of edibles

and we wonder why corn syrup, pesticides and GMOs have made us weak 

Seer's picture

And heat also burns up soils...

Get closer to the equator and you'll find that soils there are mightly thin.  In God's infinite humor, we have rich soils farther away from the warm spots and thinner nearer the warm spots...

Oh, "farming" can also include livestock.  When many vegetable crops have long since given up animals can still keep going, and the fodder for them as well: it's why I long-ago saw the value in grass-farming (which requires animals, grazers to be specific).

css1971's picture

True, but there are many sources of heat.

On a smallish scale (garden/hobby/smallholder) polytunnels or high polytunnels are cheap to build (just some pvc pipe, rebar anchors and polythene sheet) and will basically turn your midwinter into the tropics and you can run them quite a distance.

Compost generates a lot of heat, run a compost pile along the shaded north half of the high polytunnel and the produce in the south sun facing side.

Another trick for greenhouses or high polytunnels in winter with low sun angle is 1/2 litre aluminium beer cans. Cut a big hole in the top and bottom of each of the cans, punch a couple of small side holes for string in the top to hang it up, then spray paint it matt black. Hang a line of them along the length of  the center pole of the tunnel at the top. Free solar collector.

Zadok's picture

There is some good permaculture stuff toward the bottom regarding heating a greenhouse.

dizzyfingers's picture

HobbyFarmer: Good advice. Thanks.

Seer's picture

I'm afraid that where many people are isn't exactly conducive to farming activities.

Do things because you WANT to do them, because you're behind doing them.  Sure, if it takes self-programming to position yourself then so be it: we're so poorly programmed that this thought shouldn't be as horrific as it may sound.

BTW - Let's quit with the "hobby farm" notations.  Anyone who actually does work on a farm KNOWS that it ain't no hobby: breaking ice, trudging through puddles of water and mud... yeah, it's just like collecting baseball cards!

HobbyFarmer's picture

One of my favorite recent farm books is the woman in the ghetto in Oakland who farms.  She raised pigs, chickens, turkeys, geese and planted on an empty lot next to her apartment...surrounded by shootings, prostitutes, drug deals, etc.  It can be done anywhere.  The mountains (rice growers in Virginia), the desert (see Lawson's 'greening the desert'), even the city.

I hand-milk my Guernsey when it's 10 or 15 below zero in my pole-barn and I shovel manure twice a day every day 365 days a year.  I put up hay during the sweatiest summer months, remove unwanted plants from my pasture, care for injured animals, walk my property line in sub zero temps to see if branches have fallen on my electric lines.  I know how hard it is, but to me it really is a hobby.  I put time/money into it and am rewarded in other ways than financial. 

But I do get your point.  I am a parent, too.  It costs money, time, effort and I'm not rewarded financially....and I don't consider that a hobby.


css1971's picture

You forgot to mention the vast piles of shit.

Zadok's picture

Grazers auto distribute manure around the pasture, and if you stack multi species (cows, goats, sheep, chickens) you almost do everything as you rotate the pasture.

css1971's picture

Along with the shit goes endoparasites. You don't really want them auto distributing.

TheReplacement's picture

It's amazing you are still alive.  What on earth can you eat that is safe?

Rantabulous's picture

HobbyFarmer - thanks for the post. I agree with all that you have written and am doing the same.

A small contribution I would make to this thread is to recommend that people speak to people already doing this kind of thing. I am probably at the point where I could write a book on all the things I have done wrong. It is satisfying to experiment and develop new systems that run like a swiss watch - but damn there is some hard work involved sometimes.

Also research for some really great new thinking on small scale intensive food production - there is some great stuff out there - from simple things like wicking beds to backyard aquaponics and much, much more - cutting edge backyard/hobbyfarm food production aint your daddy's Victory Garden.... you can still start small with these systems and build them from stuff people have thrown away too.

jimmytorpedo's picture

5 acres will support a family of 4.

When you go larger, your costs increase astronomically.

I probably work two hours a week just to pay for the electricity to keep the 5 tractors plugged in and ready to go.

I could use 1 tractor and spend 4 hours a week switching shit around, take off snow blower and hook up manure spreader etc etc.

Farming cannot be considered a job because you would quit if you ever calculated how much you make an hour.

Bottle feeding a (free) orphan baby cow, finding a turkey hen who has wandered off to build a nest next to the foxes den, bringing a colicky horse for a 2 hour trailer ride to settle its' stomach, fixing broken fences, digging up broken tile drains, these aren't part of the 100 hour work week, but you still need to do them.

I give my maple syrup away because I calculated that if I were to sell it I would have to ask about $30 for 500ml.

The only way to make money farming is to plant 2000 acres in Natto (soy) beans. But then you live in a toxic cloud of round up with a poisoned well and funny looking grand kids. Look at combine prices, $165 000 for a used one.

If you don't like to weld, tinker with electrics, dig A LOT, nurse sick animals, get covered in hydraulic fluid and generally futz around with stuff DON"T BE A FARMER. (Oh ya, I forgot to add,eat Advil by the fucking handful)

The plus side? I eat well and can often convince my wife to drop her drawers for a quickie in the hay loft/sugar shack/up against a tractor, and nobody blames me for smelling like alcohol pretty much all day long.

If I go one day without bleeding too much (and getting a shag) it was a good day.

Money? Well, when we sell the 455 acres at 4500/acre, then we'll have some money. Until then, I will re-weld that broken PTO shaft over and over again because $165 for a new one is not in the budget.

Hobby farmer=smart

Simon Black=dink

Zadok's picture

True, from a natural perspective, none of the articles assumptions are valid. Natural farming forces small and creative approaches as opposed to brute force, and the WORK! I've never been so strong but you feel the age creeping up on you because you give it all you've got. Best living I've ever done though.

joe90's picture

Yes and who will you sell to?  The geared up farmer down the road expanding their empire who will GMO/coproratise/monocult/specialise and will be adviser and ROI driven.  And you'll retire in town with bank balance at the end of oil powered food-chain miles.  Not saying that it's you specifically (455 acres is a bit, but how would someone similar to you pay off the loan needed to buy your place?).  Millions in cities can't be supported by small farms.  Kids don't want to take over Mum and Dads farm, big city jobs beckon.  The small diverse operation farm is gobbled up.

samcontrol's picture


you are cool!

you should partner up with somebody with 2 million in fiat and no farm.

TheReplacement's picture

Owning farmland is not the same as being a farmer.  Investing is not the same as working. 

cro_maat's picture

Well I live in Brooklyn and can't build a greenhouse on the roof. I plan on buying farmland but not to make fake fiat $ or trade for Bitcoin (Note to Fonestar: Ramp up the Bitcoin marketing campaign for rural farmers and see if they will trade their non-GMO heirloom veggies for Bitcoin. I suspect they would rather have my silver.) I have friends doing permaculture farming who have been teaching me and I have looked at the Sepp Holzer videos and studied Bill Mollison's design book. Thanks for the post HobbyFarmer but I think you do the farmer's a serious injustice when you say that few are rich. If you are talking large fiat accounts at institutions that will rehypothicate / steal at a moments notice then you are correct. But if you are talking quality of life, real food sustance and a lifestyle that can remove one from the Matrix then I would say most farmers are pretty damn rich.

jimmytorpedo's picture

I live richly.

But I'm not rich.

Farm on!

mkkby's picture

Hobby and Hedgeless -- do you butcher the animals yourself, and if so how do you learn to do that correctly?  Or perhaps you hire that out.

DaddyO's picture

Try this link or search out Marjory Wildcraft,

She not only talks the talk but walks the walk.

She actually does live demonstrations in her talks where she kills and butchers a rabbit to demonstrate her techniques.

I know her to be a very honest, down to earth woman who knows her stuff...


HobbyFarmer's picture

zero experience butchering prior to starting my farm....2.5 years into this experience and I have butchered Guinea Hens, ducks, chickens, fish, and turkeys.  I've had my pigs and steer professionally done by a butcher I found through my sons 4-h program (he even picked the animals up for me since I don't have a trailer).

I have several Hmong friends (they were our allies during the Vietnam war, great gardeners/growers and very industrious).  When they found out a paid to butcher my pigs, several families offered to teach me how next year, in exchange for some of the finished products.  A very fair trade.

So, I am learning.  I also asked my butcher if I might volunteer to help with his steer butchering....he told me to come over anytime.  So, the opportunity to learn is there.

Maybe not the answer you're looking for....I'm still learning! 

Casey Stengel's picture

HobbyFarmer are you in the upper midwest? I loved reading what you wrote in this thread. Mrs Stengel milked in the evening and I did the morning. one cow, a real sweetheart jersey cross. Chicken for eggs and meat. Killer compost. Milking finished and sun is not quite up....contentment.

HobbyFarmer's picture

in the off chance you return to this thread, yes!  I live in Wisconsin.  Fantastic area...great farming, wonderful people, great businesses, strong work-ethic.

If I couldn't have got a Guernsey, I would've found a jersey.  awesome animals.  My cow rests her head on my shoulder every morning.  She thinks she's a 900 pound puppy!


hedgeless_horseman's picture



We butcher our rabbits, chicken, and wild game.  Although I learned how to butcher from my uncle (elk and deer) and have all of the equipment, we take our beef to a butcher so it can age correctly, and the butcher makes great sausage.



El Vaquero's picture

I just don't have all of the equipment to butcher large animals with anything approaching ease, so I do not have the practice.  I can gut, skin and quarter no problem, but butchering is a whole other ball game when the animal is large.


I did hang my elk for a week in my garage, which stayed between 38-40f the whole time, but you are most certainly correct that beef needs to age correctly.  Then I took it to a butcher who butchers game on the side in a little building in his back yard.  He knows what he's doing, he's cheap, but he doesn't have a place to age an elk.  He did in 3 or so hours what would have taken me probably 2 full days, and I wouldn't have gotten cuts like t-bones since I don't have a bandsaw for meat.  (I now have about 5lbs of elk marinating in both a red chile marinade and a green chile marinade that I am going to put in the smoker tomorrow to dry into jerky.)


Rabbits, however, are no big deal, although most of what I have butchered are cotton tails and jack rabbits, which are hares and not true rabbits.  I've found that the skin is a bit harder to get off of a true rabbit than it is off of a hare. 

samcontrol's picture

i love english, but butcher is a shity word.

Xanadu_doo's picture

Super smart, man. Start small. Compost. Use cover crops and build your soil - even marginal soils can produce great bounty if nurtured. Supplment your primary proteins with fresh fruits and veggies. And can everything you can't eat or share locally.

chemystical's picture

4 acres supports beef cows (plural), a dairy cow, and pigs (plural), and chickens and trees and produce??   The cows aint grazing then; you must be haying them ALOT.  Must be awfully crowded.  We too have livestock and they occupy a lot of room.

Chickens?  Yeah, they can live in your garage or den :)