This Co-Founder of a $5B eREIT Quit to Invest in Sustainable Agriculture
And how you can earn 10%+ yields supporting small community farms.
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Dan Miller, and his brother Ben Miller, founded Fundrise, one of the first real estate crowdfunding platforms in the U.S. After a seed round in 2011, the brothers grew the platform into a real estate mogul that now has over $5 billion in assets under management.
But after raising a Series A in 2015, Dan Miller stepped down and explore other opportunities in the crowdfunding space.
He eventually landed on founding Steward in 2017 as the first lending platform build to support the growth of regenerative agriculture products across the U.S. As a certified B Corp, the company’s mission is to promote environmental and economic stewardship by financing human-scale farms, ranches, fishers, and food producers.
But for income investors, it also offers highly-competitive yields backed by highly-secure land and farming equipment.
Why Farming? 🐓
Modern farming practices have virtually eliminated food scarcity (most food insecurity these days stems from poverty and conflict). Using synthetic fertilizers, better seed genetics, effective pesticides, and better management practices, global food production has soared on the same plots of farmland.
But, like many innovations, modern farming has hidden costs:
Incentives favor cheap, highly processed food and low-paid labor instead of healthy food and wages.
Reduced biodiversity makes crops more vulnerable to pests and diseases, endangering food security.
Agricultural run-off frequently contaminates rivers, lakes, wetlands, and groundwater, causing algae blooms.
Field burning, tillage, and even manure are significant contributors to air pollution and accelerate global warming.
Regenerative agriculture aims to address these challenges by:
Avoiding synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
Increasing biodiversity in terms of crop covers, cash crops, trees, and animals while maintaining multiple crop rotations.
Using cover crops, compost, and green manure to enhance and deliberately nurture soil microbiology.
Avoiding tillage to reduce air pollution and improve soil quality.
The catch is that regenerative agriculture requires an investment and entrepreneurial risk. Many large farms are unable or unwilling to assume these risks, but small farms may be more amenable. And Steward’s lending programs could provide much-needed capital to accelerate these goals.
Ideal for Income 💵
Steward offers many different lending opportunities.
Steward Regenerative Capital puts your capital to work supporting a diverse collection of short-term bridge loans made to regenerative farms and food producers. In short, the fund enables farmers to pursue time-sensitive opportunities (like tractor repair) and is crucial to helping prepare farmers for a larger capital raise on or off the Steward platform.
Currently, the fund offers an attractive 5.75% APR with a 0.5% rollover premium with a $100 minimum and a nine month term. Moreover, the fund is diversified across many borrowers, secured by land and equipment, and is semi-liquid with a short minimum holding period.
In addition to this funding pool, Steward periodically lists individual lending opportunities. Many of these opportunities offer significantly higher interest rates, but could entail slightly more risk. For example, right now, the platform has an offer featuring an 84-month loan term at a 7.50% APR.
Our Test Drive 🏇
We began test driving Steward in January 2022 with a loan to the Steward Regenerative Capital fund. After receiving payments on-time for a year, we began lending to individual projects in 2023, including an Agroforestry Equipment Purchase for a 7.25% APR over 60 months.
Currently, we periodically invest in individual opportunities depending on the interest rate, timeframe, and risk profile. In particular, we’re watching for opportunities to lock in higher interest rates over the long-term (since the inverted yield curve suggests rates are heading lower long-term).
We only found a couple drawbacks:
Availability – Steward’s individual lending opportunities sell out FAST. You’ll receive an email a day or two before each offer goes live, but be ready to react within the first hour in many cases!
Mobile App – Steward doesn’t offer a mobile app at the time of writing. While it’s not essential, it’s nice to have to check in on your account and see updates in real-time.
The Bottom Line
Overall, we love Steward as a way to diversify our high yield impact portfolio away from the more-popular renewable energy investments. Sustainable agriculture is an excellent way to address several challenges facing humanity over the coming decades – and the returns are hard to beat elsewhere!