Valley farmland draws investor interest

FRESNO, Calif.

Unlike the housing industry, experts say agricultural property values have steadily risen for over a decade. More investors are now willing to bet the farm.

Productive farmland doesn't last long once it hits the valley real estate market.

Pearson Realty Senior Vice-president Dan Kevorkian said citrus, pistachio and almond orchards have been sought not only by growers but investors as well.

Kevorkian explained, "We've seen farmland more than double in price over the last eight years."

Investors have taken note.

Rabobank economist Vernon Crowder said some people may be surprised to learn their retirement fund was being invested in farmland.

Crowder said, "In more recent years we're seeing some pension funds, some private investors who want to diversify their portfolio and there's been interest in buying properties as well as a hedge against inflation."

Farmland prices tend to follow commodity prices and many valley crops have been profitable. Some people are ditching Wall Street for orange groves.

Crowder said, "They can be a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer here in Fresno that makes a small investment with a farmer he knows."

Kevorkian said people looking to buy 40 acres or less are drawn more to a country lifestyle. He said, "Most people that buy small farms are part-time farmers."

Food production is seen by more people as a safe place to put their money.

Kevorkian said there's less volatility in farmland than there is in the stock market. He added, "Land values aren't impacted overnight by protesting in Egypt like the stock market is."

Crowder expected many crop prices to remain high this year but there's no such thing as risk-free farming. During the 1980's, plummeting farm prices forced thousands of families into foreclosure.

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