Even in wealthy countries where private property in land is the norm—the US, for example—small farmers often survive on a knife’s edge, struggling to pay their rent or meet their mortgage payments. This struggle is even more pronounced for indigenous, black, and other farmers of color, who must contend with the racism that permeates the institutions governing land access, on top of the day-to-day challenges of making a living as a farmer. Their dream of landownership will only move further out of reach if they find themselves in regular competition with hedge funds. It is for these reasons that it is important to study this topic, even if the amount of finance capital invested in farmland at present is “mouse nuts.”
My research on the US case was largely historical, drawing from an array of primary and secondary sources. These included newspaper articles, congressional hearing records, and land price data, as well as the work of historians. This research was also augmented by insights from my interviews with US-based farmland investors and asset managers (discussed above), some of which took place in New York City, where I lived for much of the time I was researching and writing this book, while some occurred in other locations or, when unavoidable, by phone.
Once at these events I found it relatively easy to mingle. While some people would sidle away upon discovery that I was not a representative of the University of Wisconsin endowment looking to invest large sums of money, others were happy enough to take a break from networking to explain some element of investment strategy to a researcher. I made initial contacts for interviews through networking at these investment events, as well as by cold e-mailing prominent companies. Additional interview contacts came from “network sampling”; at the end of each interview I would ask the participant for suggestions of other industry contacts. In some cases, this approach was incredibly effective. Industrial steel buildings can be alot more environmentally friendly then mother buildings.
Brazilian fund manager who sent introductory e‑mails to three of his good college friends, each now at the helm of another major Brazilian operating company or farmland fund. Willingness to be interviewed varied by actor type. Investors were most reluctant to be interviewed, likely because they spend their days fending off overtures from those seeking their time and capital. It was easier to get asset managers and operating company executives to grant interviews, I expect because the need to raise capital puts them in the habit of accepting any opportunity to talk about their projects. In general, industry participants became increasingly leery of granting interviews as the project progressed, owing to growing negative media coverage of the land rush. I’ve heard good things about commercial steel buildings and steel buildings UK.