Invest in Agriculture

by | Mar 22, 2011 | Archives

There have been many good reasons to invest in agriculture and agricultural land. Events in Japan increase the opportunity.

Little Horse Creek

We have put in eight miles of roads/trails (in blue) on our 252 acre North Carolina farm.

Merri and I have slowly been increasing our agricultural land bank… 962 acres in Ecuador… 252 acres in North Carolina… 16 acres in Florida.

Yesterday’s message “Invest Globally in Water” looked at the Economist special report Feeding the World and how water played such a vital role.

The report also looks at top soil. Here is an excerpt:  Limits to growth. Land, water,  fertilizer: three basic components of farming.  But is that the rule or the exception?

If crop yields are to match the rise in population, then some of them will have to go up dramatically. The world’s population is growing at just over 1% a year, so—allowing something extra to feed animals because of rising demand for meat—staple yields will have to rise by  around 1.5% a year. This may not sound much, but it is a great deal more than current growth rates. CIMMYT reckons that, to keep prices stable, the growth in rice yields will have to increase by about half, from just under 1% a year to 1.5%; maize yields will have to rise by the same amount; and wheat yields will have to more than double, to 2.3% a year.

Since the 1960s the traditional way of growing more food—by ploughing more land—has been out of favour. That is partly for environmental reasons—much irreplaceable Amazon jungle has already been lost—and partly because many countries have used up all their available farmland. So though the population has soared, the supply of land has  not.

However, the potential is not exhausted yet. The biggest agricultural  success story of the past two decades has been Brazil, largely because it was able to increase its usable acreage by making its vast cerrado (savannah-like grassland) bloom. By reducing the acidity of the soil (as at Cremaq), Brazil has turned the cerrado into one of the world’s great soyabean baskets.

A new study by the World Bank says the world has half a billion hectares of land with fewer than 25 people per square kilometre living on them (this excludes land on which farming would be impossible, such as deserts, forests and rainforests or the Antarctic). The area currently under cultivation is 1.5 billion hectares, so if all that extra land could be used it would represent an increase of one-third. In fact a lot of it either should be left alone for environmental reasons or would be too expensive to farm. But that would still leave plenty that could be useful for farming.

Most of it is concentrated in a few countries in Latin America, including Brazil and Argentina, and in Africa in the so-called “Guinea belt”, a vast loop of land that stretches round the continent from west Africa to Mozambique. In 11 countries less than half the usable land is farmed. These countries could presumably boost food output by taking in some new land.

And some of this extra land is offset by soil erosion. Africa has some of the most exhausted soils in the world, with less than 1% of organic matter in them, half the level required for good fertility. For centuries African farmers allowed for this by letting the land lie fallow for eight or nine years after a harvest. But with more people to feed they have to squeeze in more harvests, and the soil is no longer recovering.

The chemistry of the soil—the presence in it of phosphorus, nitrogen  and so on—is being degraded. That at least can be corrected by fertilisers. But the biology of the soil is also being damaged by the  loss of organic matter, which can take five to ten years to recover.  Worst of all, the physical structure changes if the top soil erodes,  making it harder for the land to retain water or fertiliser. Top soil  can take hundreds of years to replace.

This creates a lot of opportunity that can create profit and help the environment as one helps feed the world.


For example in the Blue Ridge crops such as sunflowers flourish.

Neighbors in our area have been expanding organic grapes and blueberries which are used at the local winery or picked and sold on the spot.

Really inexpensive north facing agricultural land in these mountains is also excellent for ginseng and goldenseal.

For years I have suggested buy land away from the maddening crowd in Ashe County. I believe that thousands of acres of what appears to be useless land can be purchased in Ashe County at very low prices.

Here is the third way to protect against a falling US dollar that is the most unusual twist. This land may be or can be full of gold…green gold that is. Ginseng.

Long before the European invasion of North America, American Ginseng was used by the American Indians as a demulcent, a general tonic, as a natural restorative for the weak and wounded and to help the mind.

Edgar Cayce preferred American Ginseng. He called American Ginseng “the essence of the flow of the vitality within the system itself. It is electrifying of the vital forces themselves.”

Wild American Ginseng is rich in the Rb1 group of ginsenosides, which have a more sedative and metabolic effect on the central nervous system. This also increases stamina, learning ability, and has been used for stress, fatigue characterized by insomnia, poor appetite, nervousness and restlessness, and to regulate immune systems.

Ginseng has been found to protect the body & nervous system from stress, stimulate & increase metabolic function, increase physical & mental efficiency, lower blood pressure & glucose levels when they are high, and raise them (blood pressure & glucose levels) when they are low, increase gastrointestinal movement & tone, increase iron metabolism, and cause changes in nucleic acid (RNA) biosynthesis.

In geriatric use, Ginseng has been proven beneficial in restoring mental abilities. Ginseng also helps by directly affecting the adrenal-pituitary axis, the result of which is manifested by an increased resistance to the effects of stress. This herb also aids mental function by improving circulation. Animal studies have clearly demonstrated Ginseng’s ability to help the learning process.

There is incredible profit potential in American Ginseng. Though most investors have never heard of it, French fur traders realized the enormous profits clear back in the mid 1700s.

They reportedly paid 25 cents per pound to the diggers and then sold the Ginseng for $5 per pound in China. By 1752 the French Canadian traders were selling $100,000 worth of Ginseng. That was a lot of money in those days.

One of the early Ginseng traders in the U.S. became one of the world’s richest men, John Jacob Astor. It has been said that he started his fortune in the late 1700’s when he made a profit of $55,000, all in silver, from Ginseng collected on one of his first expeditions.

Daniel Boone was famous as an outdoorsman but he made his fortune trading Ginseng.

Wild American (Glandular) grows in the U.S. and Canada.

A heavy concentration is found in the Appalachian Mountains, although wild American ginseng is considered endangered. It grows wild in the eastern half of North America on hardwood forests on well-drained, north facing slopes in predominantly porous, humus-rich soils.

Wild and cultivated ginseng produce an annual crop in the United States and Canada valued in excess of $25 million. The price of wild root is about three times that of cultivated root and almost all exports are sold to China.

The numbers for ginseng farming can be stunning. It may take several thousand dollars to plant a half acre of ginseng, but the crop can return $30,000 a year!

Plus the wild Ginseng right now sells at premium prices.  it has been going anywhere from around $250 to $500 per pound. The “explosion” of prices of ginseng came in 2007 when wild ginseng hit close to $1,000/lb dried and woods-grown and wild-simulated ginseng roots fetched $350 to $750/lb dried, depending on the age and quality of ginseng roots.  Prices will be strengthened more due to the great demands in the Chinese market.

So why isn’t everyone a ginseng farmer?

Ginseng is still difficult to cultivate, requiring almost constant attention during the growing season and considerable effort in the spring and fall to attend to Ginseng’s need for shade.

Intensive field-cultivated ginseng is an expensive venture, requiring valuable land, high-cost artificial shade and costly maintenance for four or five years before a harvest. These costs are beyond the capacity of most potential growers.

But there is a little known catch.… called “woods assisted” farming. This is a technique that uses a natural forest canopy for shade.

Typical ginseng farming requires shade fertilizer and pesticides because the plants are normally crowded together in unfavorable conditions.

But if you have an expanse of land in the right area and widely scatter the seed, the farming effort almost disappears. Disease only comes from closely packed crops and when north facing.

What is more, ginseng grown this way brings the highest price.

The greatest demand, from the Orient, is for root that is old, variously shaped and forked, moderate in size, stubby but tapering, off-white, firm when dry, and with many closely formed rings. Aged and slowly grown roots are preferred and bring the highest prices.

Field-grown, sometimes heavily fertilized, cultivated roots often are harvested when relatively young. These generally lack many of the characteristics typical of wild roots, are less in demand and lower in value.

In addition, selling seeds to other growers may provide a small income several years after planting, and 1-or-2-year-old seedlings may also be sold. The seed crop may also be of value in expanding one’s own plantings.

Where does the ginseng grow? In hardwood forests on well-drained, north facing slopes in predominantly porous, humus-rich soils especially in the Ozark Plateau, Appalachian-Allegheny Mountains, and river bluffs and hilly outcrops elsewhere in eastern North America.

Ashe County has lots of land that I believe is very undervalued and is loaded with hardwood forests on well-drained, north facing slopes in predominantly porous, humus-rich soils.

Problems create opportunity and there are few problems as large as feeding the world… feeding the world in  better ways and protecting the environment as well.   Investing in agriculture and agricultural land that is ready to transform in utility is a great way to earn income and help the world.


We introduce Ashe County real estate brokers and visit the Ashe County “New River” organic winery during our summer International Investing and Business seminar in West Jefferson North Carolina June 24 to 26, 2011.

Delegates at our previous international investing seminar visit the New River Winery in Lansing, North Carolina seeing how small businesses can grow. During each seminar we visit the the winery for a wine tasting. The winery is housed in another old WPA building which originally was the Lansing school.


Merri and I hope to see you then.


A special report on feeding the world