TGCI 151: Investing in agricultural land!

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Episode 151: Investing in agricultural land!

Copy of EP #18 - 2 Guests


In today’s show, Pancham interviews Chris Rawley – professional agricultural investor and founder and CEO of Harvest Returns.

Chris saw the importance of agriculture and how these assets were inaccessible to most investors. Pursuing his interest into a career, he turned his passion into a reality by starting a one-stop platform for agricultural investing! With 29 farms funded and over 8,000 investors, he has successfully created an avenue to generate wealth in agriculture!

Discover what’s possible with agricultural investing as he shares everything you need to know – from how it works, the variety of investment offers, and its expected returns. He’ll also discuss how his business came to be, its current achievements, why it’s like real estate investing and more in this episode!

Listen and enjoy the show!



Pancham Gupta
Screen Shot 2021-08-05 at 2.52.48 PM
Chris Rawley

Tune in to this show and enjoy!

Copy of Quote #00 - 1 Guest (1)

Timestamped Shownotes:

  • 1:50 – Pancham introduces Chris to the show
  • 3:27 – On recognizing investing opportunities in agricultural assets
  • 6:16 – Their business model and ways to invest with Harvest Returns
  • 12:51 – When the investor should expect their return on investment
  • 14:55 – The risks in agriculture investing that you should look out for
  • 16:39 – On their fees structure and how they made it work
  • 18:37 – The focus of Harvest Returns and the impact of the pandemic
  • 24:41 – Taking the Leap Round
  • 24:41 – Subordinated notes as his first investment
  • 25:34 – Overcoming his fear of the unknown
  • 26:00 – His investment that didn’t work out as expected
  • 27:57 – Why investors should do their research before investing
  • 28:40 – Where you can connect with Chris

3 Key Points:

  1. Investing in agricultural assets is similar to real estate investing. This asset class is also a great way to diversify your portfolio and generate income.
  2. Always look at the sponsor’s / investor’s background and do the due diligence to see if they have the qualities that you want for the business.
  3. Build a business model that will benefit to the success of both the sponsor and the investor as investing is a 2-way relationship.

Get in Touch:

Read Full Transcript

Welcome to The Gold Collar Investor Podcast with your host, Pancham Gupta. This podcast is dedicated to helping the high paid professionals to break out of the Wall Street investments and create multiple income streams. Here’s your host, Pancham Gupta.

Hey everybody, it’s Robert Helms, host to The Real Estate Guys radio program and congratulations for getting educated and listening to The Gold Collar Investor.


Pancham Gupta  Welcome to The Gold Collar Investor Podcast. This is your host, Pancham.  Thank you for tuning in. Let’s get into today’s show. Real Estate Investing is a general term. Even though I’ve invested in many different types of asset classes throughout my career, I primarily call myself a real estate investor. However, within real estate, there are many subclasses. For example, single family homes, multifamily, buildings, hotels, resorts, self-storage nodes, RV parks, mobile home parks, retail, malls, strip malls, and the list goes on and on and on. So, each of these subclasses have their own business models. Sometimes I feel that I have barely scratched the surface. Today, we are going to talk about investing in agricultural land, the green houses even at tech companies. Now is that a real estate investing play? Maybe, right? You know, you do need a land to do this. So, I would call it a more of investing in a business that needs a piece of land to produce the inventory that it needs to sell. So, my guest today Chris Rawley does just that with A bit about Chris before we invite him to the show. While serving as a cheap career naval officer Chris visited dozens of war torn, poverty stricken countries and began to appreciate the importance of agriculture to every single person on earth. As a professional investor, with this newfound appreciation, he decided to invest in a farm, but quickly discovered that these types of assets were inaccessible to the average person. The problem drove him to create harvest returns in 2016 to democratize investments in agriculture. He has invested in real estate and income producing agriculture for nearly two decades. Rawley is an angel investor in early stage, agriculture, and food companies, including the Indian agriculture FinTech company, Jai Kisan, he serves on the advisory board of the agriculture technology com startup, AgroFides. Hey, Chris, welcome to the show.


Chris Rawley  Thanks a lot for having me. It’s great to be here.


Pancham Gupta  No, it’s absolute pleasure to have you on. It’s been a while actually, I did this kind of show on agriculture, which you’re focused on a very long time ago, I think very beginning when I started the podcast, so since then have not really touched on it and a lot has changed. So, I’m really excited to talk about this asset class. Before we get started, though, are you ready to fire up my listener break out of Wall Street investments? 


Chris Rawley  I sure am. looking forward to it


Pancham Gupta  That’s great. Cool. So, Chris, before we begin, do you want to give a quick overview of how you, you know, your background and how you actually got started in this business?


Chris Rawley  For sure. Yeah, I, so I kind of came to starting this company later in life than many entrepreneurs, sort of a roundabout way but the one thing that has always been consistent, has been my interest in investing quite a bit honestly, of alternative investments. Not I can get into that more later. But, you know, I had a time on active duty in the military and the Navy, worked in commercial real estate, kind of caught the real estate bug there, worked in the technology side there. And that was right around the kind of right after the post 2000 bubble burst in bubble. And that taught me some lessons. And then, as I did more traveling, I became very interested in agriculture and farming. And I also certainly adapted the country lived really close to a lot of farmers and ranchers. And one of the things that I noticed was that people everywhere were making money with agriculture, but I didn’t see a lot of avenues for investors to make money in agriculture. It seemed like the people that own the land or farmland that have the money, but not so much on the investment side. So back in 2016, I decided to start this platform to allow more people the opportunity to invest in agriculture.


Pancham Gupta  Great. So, I and your website name is Very appropriate name. So yeah. So, you Travel the world, you looked at all these things, and you saw that people were making money, but there was no opportunities presented to the investors to kind of invest their money in this asset class. So, you started this. So, what were you doing up to then? And then, like, what came next? Like you just said, okay, one day, I’m going to start this agriculture company and buy some land and present it to investors are like, what happened?


Chris Rawley  Yeah, some what some why.  I had a real estate company, and both investment in some development and that was going well. And then I just decided, you know, kind of had a flash that I wanted to get into agriculture. And very similar to your story, I looked at different opportunities out there and didn’t see very many. At the same time, I saw that there was these platforms for investing in Agri or investing in real estate that were starting to pop up all over the internet that allow people to invest fractional amounts and passively. And that was the model that we chose to go with it harvest returns to allow people to invest smaller amounts of money, put less of their capital at risk, you know, just a small percentage of their portfolio at least to start with, until I felt comfortable with the asset class.


Pancham Gupta  Right. Okay. All right, great. So, for people who are listening, and even hearing for the first time that what you can invest in agricultural land, like, how does that even work? So, can you give us a quick overview for a person, you know, listener who’s listening and has never even heard about this? What does it even mean to invest in agricultural land? And how do they make money?


Chris Rawley  Yeah, so there are a wide variety of different ways to invest in agriculture, and that the simplest kind of purest forms is to go out and do the due diligence on a piece of farmland, purchase that farmland and either farm it yourself or pay someone to farm it for you. And they, they pay rents to you just like you might do with a, you know, multifamily building or commercial office building, or that sort of thing. And there are a lot of similarities between real estate and agriculture. Other ways to invest in land that have been around a while or real estate investment trusts, there’s some farmland, pure play sort of Investment Trusts to go out and buy large pieces of farmland, and then they pay the dividends back to the investors. And then our way of doing it is a little bit more specialized. We’re doing regulation D offerings, which primarily means that we have to be an accredited investor, a sophisticated investor to invest in our platform, farmers and ranchers, and agribusinesses that want to raise capital, both debt and equity, they come to us, we look at their offerings, we ask them a lot of questions, we go back, or we go back and forth, do some due diligence on their, their project. And then it sort of makes it through our initial due diligence process, we put it on our platform and investors come and they invest, we have a pool of almost a thousand investors, and they decide they can ask questions, they can attend a webinar, and do their own due diligence. And they are able to decide that they want to invest, smaller amounts of money anywhere between $5000 and $25,000, or a minimum, we’ll pull those investments, and we’ll make a single investment on to that farmer, or that agribusinesses cap table. We’re not doing direct ownership of agriculture, farmland, there are some companies that allow you to do that are permitted as you’re investing in a company that runs the farm.


Pancham Gupta  Got it.  So yeah actually, that was my next question. So, you are kind of in the middle, where who rents out all these different sponsors, these farmers, these people who, who have the land or may not have the land, but help them buy the land also, is that right? Or you actually go with people who actually have the land already and the need access capital on top of that,


Chris Rawley  it depends, in some cases, they have the land, and they want to put some infrastructure on the land or start growing a different crop. In other cases, or livestock for that matter. Because we do livestock, we’re one of the few opportunities that invest in actual livestock, we do secure cattle notes and that’s been a really popular investment product for us because the, for a lot of reasons which I can get into and high yielding products that’s collateralized with the left stocks themselves and fairly safe, but we have several vertical focus areas that we provide investments for. One is, as I mentioned, grass fed livestock or livestock operations where we’re actually lending their money to the farmer or rancher and then we issue notes to our investors, secure promissory notes. We have done equity investments in controlled environment, agriculture. So, this is indoor agriculture. It’s a very hot investment area with institutional investors where people are investing in either a smaller vertical urban farm or larger, much larger Regional High Tech greenhouse that different size projects but basically, they’re both a sustainable way of growing produce normally a place where you normally wouldn’t grow it year round, and the Flow favorable things about that type of thing that uses less water, less fertilizer runoff, produces more crop cycle, things like that. Another kind of vertical, we do a specialty and that sort of runs the gamut everything from fruit crops, we’ve done hazelnuts, we’ve done specially sort of superfoods, we’ve done this chocolate or qatal, different types of kind of bamboo different crops that really nobody else is doing that are very unique investment opportunities. Then the final one that we’ve gotten into more recently is AgTech. And this is almost an angel investing model. So, these are high growth, early stage companies that are doing something involving agricultural technology, that allows somebody to kind of have very low minimum, where normally you would have to invest, a venture capital fund might invest in these or in some cases, the companies were investing in or pre seed so early stage before they even reach out to the venture capital, folks. So, it’s an opportunity to get very high returns, of course, there’s a much higher risk around the box.


Pancham Gupta  Wow. So those, that actually spends a quite a bit of wide variety of things that you guys do. So, I’m sure each and every investment is going to look very different. But on a generally speaking for typical agricultural deal, which you have, you said, you mentioned something very interesting that people buy stock, like are a part of the share in that private placement, that company, which owns the whole thing, or what does that company own? Does that own the title to the land, and they own all the, you know, inventory related to it? Is that what how it works?


Chris Rawley  Sure, when they’re buying interest or stock, or units, if it’s an LLC, in the operating company themselves. In some cases, we’ve done convertible debt where it’s secured by a piece of land. We’ve also done your debt where it’s secured by the animals that the livestock themselves, but for the most part, you’re investing in operating company, an LLC, and that LLC might own things like morning Corp, you might know things like the land, the farm, the tractor, the equipment, the crops themselves. It also represents things like working capital, things like that, in the case of greenhouses, or vertical farms, there’s a lot of upfront capital that goes into building one of those and developing one of those, but once they’re up and running their cash flow, they just throw off cash flow. So, a good way to think about it is it’s like you’re investing in a development or real estate development, where you’re starting with a brownfield. There’s a lot of time and money to build that building. And then once it’s all fully leased, you’re producing a lot of cash flow.


Pancham Gupta  Got it? Got it. Yeah, I think that’s a great analogy, thinking of it as a development deal. So how long does it take? Like, how do the returns look like? I know, it’s a very general question, you know, and you can talk generally, how do the returns look like? And how long does it take for an investor to start seeing the return, assuming it’s not one of those initial capital intensive greenhouse kind of projects.


Chris Rawley  So, a couple of examples on our grasp, but notes, those the duration of those debt investments is anywhere between one and three years. In some cases, they’re throwing off quarterly distributions. So, from the day you invest that within the next quarter, you’re getting a payment, and till the end of that, that till that note matures, and then you get your principal back, in the case of our equity, the returns are higher than they are on the debt side, they’re, you know, started, maybe 14 15%, up until the high 20s. And then, of course, on the ag tech deals, they have higher potential exit multiples, like that. And the durations on those deals are anywhere between maybe three years with sometimes their annual distributions for the from the first or second year, all the way up till, you know, five or six years and they’re looking, we’re looking at multiple exit strategies on those and it’s very similar to real estate. So, you might see a cash out refinance, you might see we’re just because the cash flows are the point where we’re pushing a targeted internal rate of return. So, the cash flow, especially on the indoor greenhouses, once they reach a certain level, they’re gonna have enough cash to pay back, potentially the principal investment after a period of time plus, you know, target array term, or in the case of the stickier sorts of deals, you’re looking for typical venture sort of exit with a merger or acquisition, subsequent funding round, that sort of thing. So, we want to be the one stop shop for investing in agriculture. And that’s why we are offering so many different types of investments,


Pancham Gupta  Got it, cool. So, you know, let me ask you, I’m going to switch gears a little bit. So, what are some of the things that as an investor, you need to be careful About before investing in farms, and a follow up to that is, can people lose their principle when investing in? You know, let’s not talk about the AdTech, you know, that is definitely much riskier like I’m talking about bread and butter agricultural deal where you grow stuff, and then you sell off.


Chris Rawley  Yeah, so it is like any investment, you can potentially lose your principal, regardless of the type of deals, we as of the asset manager, you know, we’re not just raising capital, in some cases, we’re actually investing in these alongside our investors, or we’re carrying a profit interest so that, therefore, our interests are aligned throughout the course of the operation, the duration of the deal. Things that were doing due diligence on a deal like this is you need to look at the sponsors background.  Was the sponsor half of where with all, both from in agriculture, there’s sort of two tours we focus on from the agronomy side. So, have they ever grown anything, a similar crop using similar methods? Or to have someone on our team that has that experience? And then do they have the sort of the business financial marketing savvy, we look for teams, our ideal sponsor, is it a team with a mix of those values, somebody who’s got the agricultural experience, but also the business savvy, a lot of people are very good at making things grow, but they’re horrible businesspeople, and vice versa. So, we look for a balance in those two things. And you want to ask those questions when you’re doing the due diligence on any type of agriculture. So, understand both the operator and the financial structure.


Pancham Gupta  Got it? Got it. And in terms of the, you know, fee structure on your side, like, Is it very different for different deals, or it’s kind of similar across the board?


Chris Rawley  it’s pretty similar. The way we do our business is we take a due diligence fee from the sponsors upfront, and that kind of gives them a little skin in the game and gives us a little bit of skin in the game, because we get so many inquiries for people that want to raise money. So that kind of covers the due diligence process. And putting together the offering in some companies, by the time they’ve gotten to that stage, a higher percentage of companies make it through the due diligence process, but a lot of them just either we screen them out, or they self-select out before they even get to that stage. So, we take some fees there. And then we take some investor feeds that that pack in the offering as it closes. And then we’re, as I mentioned, where to ally our interest, we’re taking a carrier promote the as the deal performs. The might be 10 or 20%. If the payout, so our investors that cuts a little bit into the investors, ultimate returns, but it’s it also keeps us aligned with their interests so that as the asset manager, we’re going to continue to follow this deal to the, to the very end, and everybody gets their last check.


Pancham Gupta  Got it. Yeah, so that’s on the back end that 10, 20% that you mentioned. So, at the time of close, which is let’s call it acquisition fee, I don’t know what you call it. Yeah. So how much is that typically?


Chris Rawley  So, we generally call it a cost of capital fee. It’s not commission based, because we’re not a broker dealer. So, we’re taking it for investor fee. And it might range and it’s coming out of sponsors pocket, not inside the investors pocket, it does take a little bit of the ultimate return in the investors, but it’s gonna range the single digit percentages for those sponsors. And you know, well, we’ll talk to them about what that looks like. And we’ll make adjustments so that it’s favorable. We don’t want to we don’t want to be our ultimate goal is to make success for the sponsor, and for the investor. 


Pancham Gupta  Great, yeah. okay. All right. So where are your you know, have you guys exhibited any deals? And also, what part of the world I focus mainly on the US or it’s International, like, where are you focused?


Chris Rawley  Yeah, so we so far, and we’re our fourth year of actually closing deals, we close 29 deals, we’ve exited a couple on the debt side, we expected several more debt deals to exit this year, hopefully a couple of the equity ones. So that’s, you know, four years, we’re sort of building our track record when with these three to five year exits. As far as our geographic focus, primarily the US, however, we have done in our doing some overseas offerings, you know, ultimately, the growth of our company and, you know, the pure sheer size of agriculture is outside the US with over $7 billion to pee. There’s a lot of room there in the industry. It’s a multi trillion dollar industry. So, we’ve done you know, one or two deals a year we’ll be overseas, and we’ve done some in West Africa and southern South America and we’re, we’re looking at other places as well.


Pancham Gupta  Okay, great. So, I want to switch gears here. I know we spoke a little bit about this, just touched on it before we got our recording started. So, you know, this is you know, some of these things are fee good investments and also environmentally friendly. And with what’s going on in the world, you probably are more abreast to those things. You know, there’s food shortages, at least I’m reading in the news in Europe, it has that impacted your business. And also, you know, is that a risk? And also like, do you see that across your portfolio?


Chris Rawley  So, the food shortages are something that, like you said, we’ve seen them and everything from empty grocery stores, meat shelves, the beginning of the COVID pandemic here in the US to a little bit more severe and Europe, and downright famines, which unfortunately occur frequently in parts of the developing world. If anything, that shows that are the necessity of the business, and it validates when we first started doing indoor agriculture, I think our first deal was like three years ago, there was nobody talking about it. And now everybody’s talking about it. Getting in, there’s been a couple of you know, unicorn spec deals that have come out of that that industry. And what people don’t realize is they’re a food system and United States is very concentrated. So leafy greens and a lot of fruits and vegetables are mostly grown in Salinas Valley, California and shipped all over the rest of the United States, row crops corn, soy, things like that are primarily grown in the Midwest, a bit Upper Midwest in the United States. And then scattered around the rest of the country. There’s other types of agriculture, livestock is pretty evenly scattered across the although there’s it’s concentrated some states. So, with indoor agriculture enables us to distribute some of that food system produce food that’s closer to where it’s consumed, which saves some money and save some food miles is the term that people like to use. And it has many other methods.


Pancham Gupta  Great, okay, cool. So, I think we’ve covered a lot in a short amount of time. And I have one question, which has nothing to do with agriculture ,it has to do with you is that you then ask this question to everyone now is that Dd you have a morning routine that you follow , if so , do you think that attributes to success?


Chris Rawley  I don’t know if I have a routine. I probably not besides, first thing, I have to have my coffee and jump on the computer. So, I try to start working. You know, I have quite I think I’m most productive early in the morning before I actually go into work. Or if I’m working with home before everybody else starts so getting started early when I know people’s brains. Some people are not – inaudible – so they’re morning people. I’m a morning person so you know your brain works the best that any given time of the day, that’s probably when you should be working or put your most focus on


Pancham Gupta  Great, cool.  So, thank you for answering all those questions. We’ll be back after this message to go on to the second round of the show… Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the thought that you have no time after work, and family time to learn about investing? Do you feel left behind that you are not putting your money to work for you? Do you want to create passive income, but you do not know where to start? If so, I have good news for you. I have created an investor club which I called The Gold Collar Investor Club for accredited investors. I will be putting together investing opportunities exclusively for this crop. These are the opportunities where I have done my part of the due diligence for you and will be investing my own money alongside you. If you are interested, please sign up on I repeat,  thegoldcollar, I will reach out to schedule a 30 minute phone conversation to discuss your investing goals. Once you sign up, this can be a good opportunity to diversify and take some chips off the hands of Wall Street to produce some cash flow. And in case you are wondering what an accredited investor is, accredited investor is someone who has earned more than 200,000 as filing single or more than 300,000 filing jointly for the last two years. Another way to qualify as an accredited investor is if your total net worth is more than $1 million, excluding your personal home. It includes your stocks, 401ks, IRAs, cars, etc. Just not the equity in your personal home. If this is you, I would highly encourage you to sign up… So, Chris, let’s go to the next section of the show which I call taking the leap round. I asked these four questions to every guests on the show. So, my first question for you is when was the first time you invested outside of Wall Street?


Chris Rawley  So, the very first time was a few years out of college and for me that was in the mid-90s. I invested in what are called subordinated notes and these were subordinated notes on auto loans. I don’t even know if you can invest in them anymore because I have, there’s  been some lawsuits and deal of lost money. For me it was a good investment I was making, you know, maybe 10 or 11% returns at a time when interest rates were, you know, 5%, 6%. And of course, they’re much lower now. But so that was the first time I’d ever sort of dabbled outside of stocks. 


Pancham Gupta  Okay, right out of college investing in subordinate auto loans. Why? How did you get..


Chris Rawley  I would say, you know, just as inside, if you’re gonna make risky decisions, make them on when you’re young.


Pancham Gupta  It’s true. That’s true. Okay. So, did you have any fears to overcome when you first invested in that subordinated or the loans?


Chris Rawley  You know, frankly, I didn’t know that, you know, I would tell people they need to research what they’re investing in after saying I didn’t really understand what the notes were all about at that point. Obviously, I knew much better now and understand that risk a little bit better. But still, I probably fear of the unknown fear, of course, you’re losing the principal. 


Pancham Gupta  Yeah. All right. So, let’s go to third question is that do you have fun investment that you can share with us that did not go as expected.


Chris Rawley  So, I will say, you know, not too long after that when era was happening, and I was doing a lot of day trading, and a lot of people were now it’s kind of pre Robin Hood, it was Robin Hood before Robin Hood was full. So, my generation now there’s a new generation as to how that sort of thing. But I invested in Enron, and I invested in Enron, because I you know, I just got my MBA and I, you know, read through their financial statements, and read all their accounting, and did all the ratios and all that in net investment looked great. And then I lost about $10,000, in 24 hours. And here, you know, it, what the lesson learned is, is, of course, there are bad people in this world and they’re outright crooks. And you know, people can be 100% compliant with sec rules and they can do all their accounting and be fully supportive of gap principles and everything like that. But they can be fraudsters. And that’s exactly what happened with Enron. Unfortunately, a lot of people lost a lot more money than I did, you know, that’s going on over and over again with Bernie Madoff, things like that. So, you know, it’s hard. It’s really hard to tell. I guess the only lesson I have here is something was too good to be true. It probably is. 


Pancham Gupta  Yeah. I mean, you do, and you learn, right. So, I’ll tell you, though, like this, Enron and like, you mentioned that I happened to read their book, the entire story, I think the book was the smartest guy in the room. Something 


Chris Rawley  Yeah, something like that. 


Pancham Gupta  Yeah. Which actually went into their entire, you know, the CEO from top level to bottom level, and the parties and all the stuff that they were doing and how great it was, and, and, you know, it’s just mind boggling to see something at that scale can happen. And like you said, yeah, you do, and you learn these things. Okay, so my final question for you is, what is one piece of advice would you give to people who are thinking of investing in main street that is outside of Wall Street?


Chris Rawley  Yeah, so do your research and talk to people so you know, if you’re going to invest in real estate, single family homes, find somebody who’s already done it, you know, there’s tons of wonderful podcasts like yours, and, and others and books and blogs, and everything else, where you can do a lot of research in a short period of time that you just couldn’t do maybe 10,15 years ago. So, if you’re looking at alternative assets, do your research and try to get a thorough understanding before you can commit any capital.


Pancham Gupta  Great. Thank you, Chris, for sharing all that. And, you know, if someone wants to connect with you, reach you, how can they connect with you?


Chris Rawley  So best way is through our website, harvestsreturns com, we have a lot of educational material there, blog, and links to a lot of podcasts similar to this one where you are able to learn more about the asset class, which we definitely want you to do before you decide you’re going to invest with us.


Pancham Gupta  Great. Thank you, Chris, for your time today, and we’ll let you know when it goes out. 


Chris Rawley  Great. Thanks a lot. 


Pancham Gupta  Thank you, Chris. Thank you for joining me today and hearing too what Chris had to say about agriculture and how he got started. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at, that’s p as in Paul Thank you for joining. Take care. This is Pancham, signing off.

Thank you for listening to The Gold Collar Investor Podcast. If you love what you’ve heard and you want more of Pancham Gupta, visit us at www.thegoldcollar and follow us on Facebook @thegoldcollar investor. The information on this podcast are opinions. As always, please consult your own financial team before investing.

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