Gladstone Land buys 5,600 acres in 5 S. Florida farms

Gladstone Land Corp., a publicly traded real estate investment trust actively buying up farmland across the United States, announced this month that it has acquired five farms in South Florida totaling 5,630 acres for about $37.4 million.

According to a July 16 news release from the corporation’s office in McLean, Va., Gladstone then entered into a multi-year lease with a leading agricultural operation to use the tracts.

Gladstone already owns thousands of acres of farmland in Florida, including almost 2,000 acres in the Okeechobee area of which 1,368 are farmable and planted in cabbage and other vegetables. Also locally, it owns 400 acres planted in bell pepper, green beans and other vegetables on Orange Avenue in Fort Pierce; 690 gross/390 farmable acres planted in bell pepper and green beans on Corbitt Road in Immokalee, in Hendry County; and 2,678 gross/1,644 farmable acres planted in vegetables on two non-contiguous farms in the Immokalee Exchange, also inside Hendry.

The company’s release quoted Bill Frisbie, managing director of Gladstone Land: “We are pleased to significantly increase our high-value, fruit and vegetable acreage in South Florida. This region has very fertile ground and many strong farm operators who we can partner with to continue expanding our farmland holdings in the region. Florida continues to experience strong population growth, which puts upward pressure on farmland values and rents as more acreage is taken out of production every year for development.”

Gladstone’s website, however, states that its companies’ purpose is not to hasten development of farmland for residential, commercial or industrial uses. Rather, it says, “Our goal is to always keep an existing farmer on the land for as long as they would like.” The corporation sets out on the website its intent to act “as a real estate partner to farm operators.”

Accordingly, Gladstone gives interested farmers three options: for those who wish to sell, “we offer long-term sale leaseback transactions which allow them to free up capital to improve their farming operations”; for those who want to farm but not own the land, to “purchase the farms and rent them to the farmers with flexible lease terms”; or, for sellers who don’t farm their own land, to “offer cash purchase of the land, while either keeping the existing tenant-farmers in place or finding new farmers if needed.”

Asked where the five farms that were purchased are, Mr. Frisbie responded via email that “as a public company, we try to limit our comments.” But he confirmed that the 5,630 acres Gladstone purchased are within one or more of the counties of Okeechobee, Glades, Hendry, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Collier and Lee. Mr. Frisbie said he could not be more specific “at this time; we apologize.”

According to its website, www.gladstonefarms.com, Gladstone’s initial public offering on the Nasdaq exchange was in January 2013 and as of March 31, 2018, the corporation owned 79 farms comprising 67,060 acres in nine states, valued at more than half a billion dollars. It has paid 65 consecutive monthly cash distributions on common stock shares since its IPO and had a net asset value of $13.57 per share on March 31.

Its stock price at Nasdaq’s closing on July 25 was $11.65.

Asked his opinion of the acquisition, Gene McAvoy, the UF/IFAS Hendry County Extension director, said, “It probably is part of the trend (toward the corporatization of American farmland) … but it may also be a mechanism to speculate on prime real estate and keep it in agriculture until it is ripe for development.” He added, though, that he could not be certain of that.

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