Iroquois Valley’s Soil Restoration Notes are an innovative conservation financing tool that provides investors a return and enables farmers to invest in the land. These notes specifically target support for soil health and the organic transition. This work was partially funded by a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant.
Conservation Innovation Grants are three-year grants – ours was funded in 2016 and was completed in September 2019. Our final report shares information about our project to develop Soil Restoration Notes and directly support farmers for their soil-building work. In the Soil Restoration Notes’ first iteration in 2017, we raised a little over $2 million and deployed $3,134 to farmers through the Soil Restoration Pool, a mechanism that pays 0.5% interest into a pool for farmers as investors accrue interest through their investment. Since then, we’ve raised over $20 million in investor capital – this year, the Soil Restoration Pool reached $50,000 and funded soil health and conservation projects for 15 farmers.
A NEW MODEL FOR SHARING RISK: CHANGING THE FARM FINANCE SYSTEM
Other report highlights include lessons learned throughout the project and ways we are looking to build on this work in the future.
Rodale Institute, the global leader of regenerative organic agriculture, is “putting its money where its mouth is” by investing 2 million dollars with Iroquois Valley Farmland Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), a farmland finance company that works with mission-driven investors to provide organic and regenerative farmers land security through long-term leases and mortgages.
The Board of Directors at Rodale Institute approved the decision to invest a portion of the organization’s endowment fund and general operating budget with Iroquois Valley in an effort to increase land access for organic farmers across the country and boost organic acreage, a core tenet of Rodale Institute’s mission.
Rodale Institute has been researching the benefits of regenerative organic agriculture for over 70 years, focusing on growing the organic movement through science, farmer training, and consumer education. This investment makes Rodale Institute one of the top 5 shareholders in Iroquois Valley, allowing the Institute to support organic farmers while responsibility stewarding its assets and growing its endowment.
“Rodale Institute has always been committed to socially responsible investing,” said Maya Rodale, Co-Chair of Rodale Institute’s Board of Directors. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to invest with Iroquois Valley, whose mission to put more organic farmers on more organic acres couldn’t be more in line with ours. We are taking the opportunity to make a difference in the world with our investments—because the future is organic.”
Despite the organic market reaching $55 billion in the U.S. in 2019, only 1% of U.S. farmland is certified organic. Programs like Rodale Institute’s Organic Crop Consulting service, which puts trained agronomists on transitioning farms in a one-on-one mentorship model, are working to bridge that gap. However, land access and capital remain a barrier for potential organic farmers across the United States.
Iroquois Valley seeks to break down those barriers by purchasing farmland and entering into a lease agreement or underwriting a mortgage for organic farmers who are looking to start or expand their operation. Rodale Institute’s investment allows Iroquois Valley to purchase more land and offer those resources to farmers nationwide.
With the availability of farmable land decreasing every year, the power of Iroquois Valley to purchase land quickly for organic farmers who may not have access to traditional funding sources is critical in ensuring the growth of the organic movement. Iroquois Valley also offers lines of credit for organic farmers who need to jumpstart their operation. Iroquois Valley’s portfolio currently includes over 60 farms on more than 13,000 acres in 15 states.
“One of our founding goals at Iroquois Valley was simply to support organic farmers in growing their businesses and stewarding more land,” explained Iroquois Valley co-founder and board chair, Dr. Stephen Rivard. “We believe that more land in organic production is essential to changing both our food and healthcare systems. Rodale Institute’s investment will allow us to deploy more capital to organic and transitioning farmers who are building healthy soils and supporting healthy outcomes for people & planet. We are proud to partner with Rodale Institute and work together toward an organic future.”
Rodale Institute’s impact investment with Iroquois Valley not only increases land access for organic farmers but ensures responsible investment and growth of Rodale Institute’s endowment in a way that aligns with its mission. “Impact investing” refers to investments that provide capital to address social or environmental issues while generating a financial return. Rodale Institute’s bylaws state that “up to 100% of investment assets should be allocated to socially responsible investment opportunities.”
“Investing in farmland is an excellent addition to our already diverse portfolio,” said Elaine Macbeth, Rodale Institute’s Chief Financial Officer. “This addition allows for more stability in our portfolio and creates an investment that is inflation-resistant during adverse market conditions while upholding the mission we work towards every day.”
One example of the direct impact of Rodale Institute’s investment is Main Street Project, a nonprofit based in Northfield, Minnesota. Main Street Project uses a poultry-based regenerative system to develop farming opportunities for Latinx immigrants working in the food system.
Iroquois Valley, through the help of their investors, was able to scale up Main Street Project’s model to a 100-acre farm where the organization can document the economic, ecological, and social impacts of regenerative livestock on a family-farm level. Iroquois Valley’s support has also allowed Main Street Project to increase training opportunities for upcoming and established farmers looking to integrate regenerative poultry.
In addition to advancing the impact of Rodale Institute’s investments, Iroquois Valley is also utilizing Rodale Institute’s research, farmer training, and educational resources, such as consulting, to assist their clients with the economics of transition.
Rodale Institute has always believed that investment in organic agriculture is an investment in rural communities, farm families, and public health. Investing in Iroquois Valley’s diversified portfolio of farmland allows the Rodale Institute to spread its impact across the United States, moving closer to an organic future.
Iroquois Valley is proud to release its first public benefit report. We incorporated our company as a public benefit corporation in 2016 to build into our structure our intent to create public benefit. We intend to create public benefit by enabling healthy food production, restoring soil, and improving water quality through the establishment of secure and sustainable farmland tenure. Read our public benefit report here.
This report builds on our history of impact reports, which measure our impacts against our vision statement. See our previous impact reports here.
Iroquois Valley is proud to partner with the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) by supporting their research to learn more about the challenges and research priorities of organic farmers and ranchers, as well as farmers and ranchers transitioning land to certified organic production. The project includes two national surveys—one for certified organic producers, and the other for producers transitioning to organic certification. The project includes two national surveys—one for certified organic producers, and the other for producers transitioning to organic certification. It is in collaboration with the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) and supported by the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This partnership will last through 2021. Our additional support for this initiative will help:
Provide incentives to encourage survey participation from farmers
Enable Iroquois Valley farmers to participate in listening sessions and provide feedback on their experiencing transitioning and farming organically
Provide incentives to thank farmers who participate in focus group sessions at the following conferences across the US:
Fund additional listening sessions at conferences Iroquois Valley helps target and identify
Printing and sharing the final report in 2021
OFRF is a leader in organic agriculture advocacy, research, and education – over its 30 year history, it has been instrumental in highlighting the role of organic management in “building resiliency, restoring the health of our soils and waterways, and improving human health.” Iroquois Valley shares those beliefs and is proud to sponsor such relevant work within the organic agriculture community. The outcomes of OFRF’s transitioning and organic research will be invaluable to growing our shared movement.
Iroquois Valley was awarded a $700,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). Our project will focus on supporting our farmers beyond land tenure through operating capital and improving farm viability.
The funding is provided through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which is funding the future of agriculture and conservation through grants to organizations and universities that are developing the next generation of tools and technologies to boost conservation on agricultural lands. The 2019 CIG recipients can be found here.
Organic agriculture is growing – in 2019, 8.3 million acres were planted and certified organic in the US. This equates to 18,155 organic farms and a 3% jump from 2018. Mercaris, a leading data provider for organic and non-gmo markets, recently released their Annual Acreage Report and Organic Farm Heat Map, which highlights density and distribution of US organic farm operations.
Highlights of the report include:
Organic grain farmers will harvest a record amount of acres in 2019, measuring in at 3.1 million acres.
This represents a 7% increase in organic field crop production from 2018.
The largest increases in organic harvested field crop acres this year were in the West and High Plains.
Read the press announcement about the Annual Acreage Report from Mercaris here.
Iroquois Valley was featured in the Swift Foundation‘s piece for Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Summer 2019 issue. Their article looks at a few organizations, including California FarmLink and RSF Social Finance, who are working to support regional food systems through finance. It also identifies a role for foundations to accelerate investment into food system transformation.
While organic farming is growing, only 1% of all U.S. farmland is farmed organically. We’re looking to change that by providing secure, long-term land access for regenerative farmers.
Our investment theory is that land security enables land stewardship — we believe that farmers will thrive when they’re backed by long-term capital that shares risk.
In our experience, there’s no shortage of farmers who want to farm organically and regeneratively. The challenge lies in accessing the resources needed for farm viability: land access, capital, and markets. Farmers need systemic support in order to change agriculture and build the regenerative food and farming system we know can exist.
Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC is recognized as a “Best For The World” B Corp for customers, governance and overall.
Iroquois Valley, a Certified B Corporation, has been named a Best For The World honoree in recognition of their significant positive impact in their innovative governance structures, supportive customer service, and across all categories. Ranking in the top 10% of all B Corps for their overall impact, Iroquois Valley earned this honor because of their overall mission, ethics, and promotion of public benefit.
“We’re incredibly proud of this year’s Best For The World honorees,” says Anthea Kelsick, Chief Marketing Officer of B Lab. “These inspiring companies represent the kinds of business models and impact-driven business strategies that are building a new economy—one that is inclusive, regenerative, and delivers value to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. To that end, B Corps like Iroquois Valley are redefining capitalism and showing that it actually can work for everyone.”
1,000 B Corps from 44 countries were named to the 2019 Best For The World lists, including Patagonia, Beautycounter, Dr. Bronner’s, TOMS, Seventh Generation, and Greyston Bakery. The 2019 Best For The World honorees are determined based on the verified B Impact Assessments of Certified B Corporations. The full lists are available on https://bcorporation.net/.