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Peoples Company expands West with ABT acquisition

President Steve Bruere says the acquisition of half of Washington State's AgriBusiness Trading Group is part of an effort to be in each US farmland market drawing institutional investors.

Peoples Company has acquired a 50 percent stake in Walla Walla, Washington-headquartered agricultural asset broker AgriBusiness Trading Group in a transaction designed to enhance the Iowa-based firm’s presence in Northwestern states.

Under the terms of the agreement, ABT will remain land broker for its own and Peoples Company’s deals in Western markets, and ABT’s transactions in the Midwest will be brokered by Peoples Company. Services in both markets will be offered through Peoples Company.

“Peoples Company gains a well-respected partner on the ground and AgriBusiness Trading Group expands its reach and will be able to offer clients more services and resources,” the  firms explained in a joint statement.

The tie-up comes four months after People’s Company ran a sale process that resulted in Farmland LPs’ purchase of a 6,000-acre farmland property located 20 miles outside Walla Walla.

ABT president Adam Woiblet told Agri Investor that he met Peoples Company president Steve Bruere over the course of that  transaction, though he was not directly involved in the deal. Traditionally, Woiblet said, ABT has represented institutional buyers in their acquisitions of agricultural assets in Washington, Oregon and Montana.

Woiblet said he was particularly excited that the partnership would allow the firm to offer its existing customers the farmland management, appraisal and auction services that Peoples Company provides.

“Those are all services that I had interest in offering through my firm, so rather than spend the resources and time to reinvent the wheel doing that, it made a lot of sense to partner with those guys,” Woiblet said. “Overnight, we have that suite of services to offer out of our Northwest office.”

Woiblet said a significant portion of irrigated farmland in the Northwest that attracts the interest of institutional investors is located in the Columbia River Basin and Treasure Valley. The majority of such large farms, according to Woiblet, are row-crop properties also growing rotations of potatoes, onions and alfalfa.

The region also contains vineyards and permanent crop properties devoted to apples, cherries and pears, among others.

“Five years plus ago, there were a few institutional guys out running around making investments up here, but now there is a ton of institutional money out there,” said Woiblet, adding ABT typically contacts between 15 and 20 such investor groups when it has a well-suited property.

“When I am talking to these institutional groups – almost without fail – every single one of them says: ‘We have more money than we have placed to put it right now.’ That’s nationwide, not just in the Northwest.”

Follow the money

Peoples Company, an Iowa-headquartered farmland broker, manager and investment service provider, already operates in 20 US States. Bruere told Agri Investor the expansion into the Pacific Northwest comes in response to the flow of institutional capital into the region.

The ABT transaction is part of broader strategy for Peoples Company, said Bruere, to expand from its established base in the Midwest. He said the company is already in discussions with other groups to potentially make similar expansions into agricultural regions including the Mississippi River Valley, California, Texas and the Southeast.

“There’s five or six key spots around the country where, if you want to be where the large transactions are, that’s where you need to be. So that’s what we’re working on building out,” Bruere said.