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Peoples Company looks in-house for new sustainability director

New sustainability director Mollie Aronowitz says she expects her new position will bring her in closer contact with institutional investors.

Diversified farmland investment services provider Peoples Company has elevated Mollie Aronowitz from farmland manager to the newly created position of sustainability director.

Aronowitz’s new role at the Clive, Iowa headquartered company will see her lead efforts to help clients maximize production, profits and land appreciation, while strengthening the company’s broader focus on sustainable agriculture.

Peoples Company established a partnership with agri-focused data firm Mercaris in February 2018 to study the impact of organic conversion on farmland values. Last October, it launched a cover crop initiative to address what it saw as a mismatch between conservation needs and the ownership structure of much US farmland.

Aronowitz told Agri Investor the cover crop initiative was an example of the services the company has been offering in recent years and which will now be provided to landowners in a more formal sustainability assessment package.

Aronowitz that after collecting data on fertilizer and chemical use, yield history and other factors, the assessment would provide clients with acre-level profitability mapping. It will also provide projections of potential per-acre costs and earnings associated with specific changes to farming practices.

“We’re taking what we’re learning in Iowa and building it out to a larger management platform,” she said. “We think of it as aligning the current best practices, educating ourselves and being at the forefront of tomorrow’s best practices.”

Aronowitz said technology had played a key role in driving the evolution of Peoples Company’s approach to sustainability. She added that early iterations of agricultural technologies had been operator-focused, and had often left non-operating landowners in need of assistance to determine the best fit for their property.

“As different tech companies have come in and out, we’ve gotten our feet wet in a lot of different technology,” she said. “Some are no longer on the market and some have merged with other companies – that has been an interesting process to watch.”

Aronowitz said her contact with institutional investors in farmland had been limited by Iowa’s anti-corporate farming laws, and her clients had largely been out-of-state landowners of family-run operations.

However, with Peoples Company having expanded into more than 20 US states, Aronowitz said she expects her new role to involve greater interaction with institutions active in farmland markets.

Such institutional investors, she said, were often focused on the need to obtain and maintain “social license” to operate in a specific community, and their approach to sustainability can be more formal than typical practice in areas such as farm-level data collection from operators: “Institutional investors have a different mindset coming into farming assets and requirements, so we are laying the pieces now to be prepared for that.”

The sustainability director is one of only eight female farmland managers in the US accredited by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.