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Farmland LP purchases sought-after Washington farm

Peoples Company president Steve Bruere tells Agri Investor that the property attracted interest from a wide variety of investors including farmland funds, high-net-worth individuals and family offices.

San Francisco-headquartered Farmland LP has purchased a 6,000-acre farmland property in Washington State from owner Tim Weidert in a sale run by Iowa-based Peoples Company.

Weidert Farm, located about 20 miles from Walla Walla, Washington, consists of 6,000 contiguous acres currently devoted to growing wheat, with elevations ranging from 440 feet to 940 feet. Its soils are nearly perfectly uniform with extremely high water-holding capacity, according to Peoples Company.

“Ahead of the sale, industry experts boasted about the land’s optimal elevations, tremendous air drainage, gradual slopes, a remarkable soil profile and abundant permitted water rights, which make it ideally suited for the development of permanent crops such as wine grapes, apples, blueberries and hops,” the agricultural land brokerage said.

In an email to Agri Investor, Bruce Sherrick, a University of Illinois professor and director of the TIAA Center for Farmland Research, confirmed he had been among those invited to view the Weidert Farm before sale, calling the property “incredible.”

In the public eye

Peoples Company president Steve Bruere told Agri Investor that, while inviting academics such as Sherrick to view properties had not previously been part of Peoples Company’s sale process, it was appropriate in this case given interest in the farm across a variety of investor types and the need to publicize the seller’s vision for the property. Such invitations could be repeated in the future, he said.

“If you are selling a row-crop property in the Midwest, there’s either just farmers or institutional investors,” Bruere said. “Here, there was significant interest from hops folks to blueberry folks, to apples and vineyards and even lifestyle buyers. This is also kind of an ‘ego property’, so high-net-worth individuals and family offices had some interest as well.”

The role of Peoples Company in the transaction started, according to Bruere, when the Weidert family began inquiring about replacement wheat properties in the Midwest. Though the area surrounding Weidert Farm had previously been devoted to growing sweet onions and potatoes, Bruere said the Weiderts ultimately hired Peoples Company to help find a buyer interested in pursuing what the family saw as the land’s highest and best use; a conversion to grapes, apples, blueberries and hops.

“In talking to a lot of institutional investors, they all want to buy it for its current, as-is value, as a dry-land, center-pivot farm, and not necessarily what you could do with it,” Bruere said.

‘Aggressive growth’

Alan Busacca, a former Washington State University professor of agriculture and soil science and currently a wine industry consultant, said in a video Peoples Company helped produce to publicize the property that Weidert Farm is located in an area he described as being among the most “aggressively growing” parts of Washington’s wine industry. According to Busacca, the surrounding Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area, which had just 15 wineries in the late 1990s, today boasts more than 150.

“A property like the Weidert Farm has the potential to grow all of the mid-season to late-season ripening grapes. Everything from Shiraz and Merlot, Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Petit Shiraz. It’s almost limitless,” said Busacca.

Founded in 2009, Farmland LP pursues a strategy of acquiring undervalued farmland to which the firm adds value through conversion to organic production, enhancing crop diversity and infrastructure investments. Farmland LP co-founder and managing partner Craig Wichner told Agri Investor that prior to the Weidert Farm transaction, the firm had $130 million in farmland under management and is currently seeking $150 million for its second investment vehicle.

According to Wichner, Farmland LP’s plans for Weidert Farm do, in fact, call for conversion of a portion of the property currently devoted to corn, alfalfa, onion and potatoes to permanent crops including wine grapes, apples, blueberries, hops as well as organic row crops.