AGRICULTURE BLOGS

What’s Changed in Indoor Ag over the Past Year?

John Lynn of the awesome longstanding Vegas Tech blog Las Vegas Startups asked us “what’s changed this year” and here’s the response we gave him in our guest blog this week…

“A little over a year ago, a venture capitalist mentor told me to “go figure out who else is interested in this indoor agriculture stuff”, and so, I began planning the inaugural Indoor Agriculture Conference, which would eventually sell out with more than 230 attendees in April 2013.  Indoor agriculture is growing produce and raising fish in containers, warehouses and greenhouses using hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic technologies.  It’s a $600bn+ industry in the US alone; it ranges from growing leafy greens in London underground tunnels to the greenhouse operations that produce around half of the tomatoes we buy in grocery stores.  As we plan this year’s ag-con – on May 14-15 at Springs Preserve – we’re getting calls and emails from as far afield as the UK, Israel and Australia, a reflection of the remarkable growth in interest in the industry over the past year.

Details

Lemon Tree

Las Vegas Indoor Agriculture Opportunity

Las Vegas seems like an unlikely place to think of sustainable farming; we have little water, the soil is sandy and it’s wretchedly hot for parts of the year. Yet, it is for these very reasons that the city is well suited to indoor agriculture…. Read More

U.S. Agricultural Research Is Faltering, Report Warns

“The nation risks losing its longstanding supremacy in food production because research in agriculture has not kept up with new challenges like climate change, depleted land and water resources and emerging pests, pathogens and invasive plants.” New York Times Folks like Y Combinator and TechStars, are rejigging their accelerator programs to keep ahead of both…

Details

What Price of Crude Oil Makes Ethanol Production Profitable?

The analysis also highlights the difficulty of sustaining the current price of corn, around $8, without crude oil prices above $100. Farm Doc Daily argues that we’re in a new era for corn prices, as higher oil prices justify corn ones above $4/bushel in order to provide a clearing price for ethanol production.  This is…

Details

Which Sugar ETF Is Right For You?

[one_half]  [testimonial]Thanks to the development of the exchange-traded fund industry, investors now have several ways to gain access to this sweet commodity.[/testimonial] [/one_half] [one_half_last] As commodity exchange traded funds (ETFs) become ever more popular, we’re seeing increasingly specialized products.  A few years ago, it was tough to find more than a handful of single commodity ETFs.  Now…

Details

China Corn Demand Undeterred By Record Prices

[one_half]  [testimonial]There’s not been much demand destruction.[/testimonial] [/one_half] [one_half_last] Investment manager DWS Global comments that there hasn’t been much change in Chinese corn demand in the face of high prices, an interesting indication that higher prices might be sustainable in the long run.  Though DWS Global points out that there’s little developed market correlation between food prices…

Details

Noble Will Target U.S. Agriculture Assets To Supply China

[one_half] Further news of strategics looking to acquire agriculture supply chain assets, this time specifically to feed the China market where there is increasing concern about the country’s imminent switch from exporter to importer in some crops. Full article here[/one_half] [one_half_last][testimonial]there have been 293 announced agriculture deals in the past year, with a combined value…

Details

Water Scarcity’s Impact on Farmland Prices

Last week, I got present to the AgReturn conference on the impact of water scarcity on farmland returns and inflation hedges.  It’s a tricky subject matter given that there’s little in the way of academic research on the subject and the intuitive response – that less water means less return and a poorer inflation hedge…

Details

5 Cool Real Assets Trends for 2012

Shamefully, it’s taken me an entire month to wade through 2012 predictions from assorted economists and commentators.  The consensus calls are much as one would expect; neither oil prices nor the US economy are going anywhere fast, nothing substantive will be achieved on federal policy in the teeth of a tough election year, investors aren’t…

Details

Lamb at Amelia Trust Farm

Transforming Waste Wool to Green Building Gold

Priscilla Burgess has spent most of her career managing software and internet projects for mega-corps such as Cisco and GE.  Like many of us, she began to wonder if there was more to life, if there was some way that she could pay the bills and yet still create products that helped society.  On a…

Details

Farm in Africa

Specialty Crop Institute Spurs Growth of Sustainable Farming and Local Food Systems in Nevada

Nevada has the fewest farmers of any state in the union – 3,131 compared to 81,033 in neighboring California, according to the USDA. Of these, only an estimated 200-400 are produce farmers, with ranchers dominating in the state. “I’ve lived in Reno for 30 years, and didn’t even realize there were farmers here for the first 20,” admits Ann Louhela, Project Continue reading

Details

Real Assets Junkie Goes Social!

In these straitened times, it’s always exciting to be able to announce a little growth, and Real Assets Junkie is fortunate to be expanding to two great blogs: –Seedstock.  The folks at Seedstock provide a unique platform for sustainable agriculture bloggers; their 20 contributors profile start ups, farms, urban agriculture and university research projects.  They’re…

Details

How D’you Make a Local Food System?

At a recent event, I got chatting to a delightful rancher couple about their Facebook page.  Though they recognized its importance to marketing their grass-finished beef, they’d never actually seen Mills Ranch’s Facebook page and weren’t entirely sure what it was.  “We know it’s on the computer, but our granddaughter takes care of it” they…

Details

Can Local Stock Exchanges Overcome the Valley of Death?

Whenever you see a venture capital or investment banking presentation on the development of a company, it starts with two guys working on their smart idea in a garage, progresses to funding from angel, venture capital, private equity groups before reaching the utopia of listing on a public stock exchange, preferably either the NYSE or…

Details

Five Intriguing Agriculture Startups

At the recent Slow Money event, one of the highlights was listening to pitches from 30 ag entrepreneurs on everything from greenhouses to rice varietals.  Here are some examples: 1. StockBox Grocers StockBox places miniature grocery stores – refitted shipping containers – in food deserts, areas where full grocery stores are unavailable.  Each container is…

Details

Visiting a Non Profit Organic Farm

One of the few joys of traveling is stumbling upon unexpected places along the way.  Taking a detour on a soggy day in Wales, I followed signs for Amelia Trust Farm, an organic produce and sheep farm about 9 miles from the capital city of Cardiff.  As in many developed countries, farming has become a…

Details

A Startup Changing Cambodia’s Farming Landscape

A little over a year ago, I met two French economics graduates who had a cool idea, a ton of energy and plane tickets.  Traveling after graduation, they had fallen in love with Cambodia and decided that they wanted to transform the lives of the subsistence farmers that comprise more than half of the country’s…

Details

Can Hackathons Save Small Farmers?

At the prompting of my social media guru buddy Rita Best of Hummingbird Studios, I spent last Sunday seeing the results of a 24 hour hackathon – a mammoth FatBurger and Red Bull fueled coding session whose goal was to create web, Tropo and SmartPhone apps – in, of all places, Reno.  Being a small…

Details

Farm in Africa

Are agriculture stocks a good proxy for farm income?

One of the reasons that real assets get short shrift in pension portfolios is that they’re not the easiest of assets to evaluate.  If you want a proxy for healthcare cost growth, there are an abundance of publicly listed drug manufacturers and service providers who specialize in it, and you can always supplement these with…

Details

Banana Processing in Africa

Why is Private Equity Suddenly into Food?

Discussing the recent spate of food company investments by large private equity firms over beers with a buddy, he lamented “why the heck are they doing it when they could buy MySpace instead?”  Traditionally the preserve of families on one end of the scale, and multinationals on the other, food processing has come to interest…

Details

Image courtesy of John Haslam

Who’s Missing the Green Building Revolution?

By most conventional measures, the green building market – construction that uses sustainable materials and processes  – is booming.  It’s grown in excess of 30% pa through the downturn, and was estimated at a whopping $71bn by the tail end of 2010. It even has the Presidential seal of approval; President Obama described insulation as…

Details

The Curious Rise of Real Asset ETFs

Five years ago, it was a pain in the neck to put together a real assets portfolio from public equities because there were so few easy proxies to use. All of the interesting ETFs seemed to be listed in Europe, thanks in part to the work of innovators such as ETF Securities. In my first…

Details

Image Courtesy of Tree Media

A New Movie on Detroit’s Urban Farms

It’s pretty hard to disagree with the idea of produce-based urban farms.  They are, after all, a hipper version of the vegetable patch you find in many a suburban garden, albeit larger and more sophisticated.  They also tap the current zeitgeist for reducing food miles by sourcing locally, and – in some cases – organically.…

Details

African Farmland

Do Investors Cause Food Poverty?

One of the pervasive themes that I see in media coverage of agriculture investing is that institutional investors are causing food poverty (the inability to access an adequate diet) and thereby food riots such as that seen across the globe in 2007/8.  It’s reached officialdom as well, in this testimony to the US Senate for…

Details

Does Sustainability Make Amish Farms Profitable?

What are you supposed to do when an 80-something year old Mennonite farmer starts unplugging things under the hood of your rental Prius?  If you’re interested in agriculture, you tend to end up being interested in the Amish at some stage, and – for a while – I lived an easy drive away from one…

Details

Image Copyright Nicola Kerslake

What Comes Next For Biofuels?

Algae-based fuel producer Solazyme just upped its target for next week’s IPO, so this morning’s SD Forum breakfast on the coming generation of biofuels was buzzing.   With Kior (which says it can produce synthetic petroleum from plants) recently filing a K1, biofuels are one of the bigger hopes for much-needed IPO exits. Briefly, 1st generation…

Details

USDA Food Map

Now We’ve Found The Food Deserts, What Do We Do With Them?

Food security is beginning to become a buzz word in the mainstream press, not least because of last week’s launch of a nifty online tool for identifying food deserts – low income areas with low access to grocery stores – from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The tool takes a commonsense approach, defining…

Details

Image Courtesy of Financial Times

Where Did All The Engineers Go?

At a time of 9%+ unemployment, it seems kooky that so many of the real assets sectors are short staffed.  As baby boomers prepare for retirement, there just aren’t that many skilled workers coming up through the ranks.  All oil executives said that a lack of skilled personnel was their biggest issue, in a 2009…

Details

Image Courtesy of Reuters

USDA Says Food Inflation Unchanged, Really?

This morning, the USDA announced unchanged food inflation forecasts, though it did increase beef & veggie price expectations.  Are we really supposed to buy this? Let’s take a look at what some industry folks are saying: 1. Food stocks are at multi-decade or – in some cases – all time lows: -End March grain stock…

Details

A HarvestMark Bag

Yelp for Produce: Tracing Food to the Farm

Fruit always used to be a gamble; sometimes you got a good apple, other times a mealy one.  That’s beginning to change, thanks to a new generation of farmers and a couple of new laws. Produce – and many other foods outside of meat & dairy – now have to follow a ‘one step up,…

Details

Image Courtesy of eHow

Glencore’s IPO; A Drop in the Bucket

The storied Swiss commodities trader Glencore launched its long anticipated IPO this week.  The company trades in metals, energy and agricultural commodities, and owns mines, farmland and energy assets.  It is the latter that have driven the need to IPO, as the company seeks to acquire further mines in particular. Media coverage has focused on…

Details

Biosphere 2

The Ruins of a Grand Experiment

Scientists have a certain way of doing things. You start with a hypothesis, test it on a miniature scale and then expand gradually from there. Biosphere 2 ignored all of this and – after a couple of preliminary tests – built a huge mini-world complex 35 miles north east of Tucson in the Arizona desert…

Details

Lemon Tree

Yikes, it’s Already Conference Season!

Suddenly, it’s conference season in agbusiness world, and I’m moderating a panel on the risks and rewards of farmland acquisitions at Monday’s Ag 2.0 conference in San Francisco.  It’s been a fun task pulling together topic ideas with the rest of the panel, who range from a well respected agricultural economist to the CEO of…

Details