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Episode #33: Land Investing with Noah Berkson of CashRent

In this episode, Millionacres editor Deidre Woollard sits down with Noah Berkson of CashRent. Noah is an entrepreneur who is creating a platform to bring landowners and people looking to rent farmland together.

CashRent wants to improve the renting process between landowners and farmers. Its algorithm calculates rent based on yield output, soil data and other factors and they are able to increase lease revenue by 26.5%. They are applying data and technology to disrupt what has been a mostly handshake business. Learn more at www.cashrent.com.

Share your thoughts with us: media@millionacres.com

This episode is sponsored by https://www.equitymultiple.com/.

Timestamps

0:00 Introduction to Noah Berkson

1:20 How Noah became part of CashRent

2:33 Noah's previous business in property analytics

3:20 How drones play out in agriculture

4:30 Farming land supply and demand?

5:50 Does farming have an aging problem?

7:05 How CashRent reached out to the farming community

8:15 How CashRent's auction model works

9:50 Why will a landowner choose a bid that isn't the highest?

11:55 How does CashRent determine fair market value?

13:29 What has the feedback been on CashRent's estimates?

15:01 Does CashRent work for raw land?

16:53 What is the vetting process like?

19:25 CashRent's seed funding round

22:45 Venture capital and agtech

24:28 Farmland's contribution to building a better future

26:02 The consolidation of farmland

27:47 Buying farmland

30:10 Financing for farmland

Transcript

Deidre Woollard: Hello. I'm Deidre Woollard, an editor at Millionacres. Thank you so much for tuning into the Millionacres podcast. If you followed this podcast before, you know that, at Millionacres, we see tremendous opportunities in farmland investing. I'm excited to be here with Noah Berkson of CashRent. CashRent wants to improve the renting process between landowners and farmers. It uses an algorithm that calculates the rent based on yield output, soil data, and all kinds of other factors. So far, they've been able to increase lease revenue by 26.5 percent, which is pretty substantial. They're really applying data and technology to disrupt what really has been mostly a handshake business in farming in the past. Welcome, Noah. I'm excited to know a little bit more about how you became part of CashRent, because your background is in venture capital, right?

Noah Berkson: Yeah, it is. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah, I have been a tech entrepreneur, pretty much for the adult period of my life. I had a few different technology businesses. After my last, which was actually in the property analytics space, I moved over to the investing side, and we founded a venture studio and fund called Candor Ventures. I had the pleasure to meet two guys that are our partners now, Chris Baumann and Brad Belser, two entrepreneurs from Peoria, Illinois. As they started to explain the problem that they saw in the industry, which was the lack of transparency around value from a cash rental basis in farmland, I, from growing up in Iowa, definitely understood the problem, and, from my tech background, understood how to solve it. It was really a chance encounter, and so glad it happened. I've really loved the journey thus far.

Deidre Woollard: Awesome. Thank you. So you were involved in other real estate ventures before? You just mentioned property analytics. Is that right?

Noah Berkson: It is. Yeah. In my last business, we used drones to survey properties for large industrial property owners, retailers, REITs, and help them with their capital and maintenance expenditures on an annual basis. I think, for myself, just seeing the fragmentation that still exists in real estate technology, and I think agriculture, as well, where you have an industry that has not necessarily embraced technology. There is technology, but it's far behind other industries. I think what really piqued my interest on the agriculture side is just the lack of transparency. Anytime you see a lack of transparency in an industry, and a lot of people making money off of that lack of transparency, it becomes something that, personally, I want to get involved with.

Deidre Woollard: You mentioned drones, so now I'm very interested. I'm a drone fan. How do you feel like drones are going to play out in agriculture more? I've seen already there's surveys, but I feel like there's more that can be done. What are you thinking about that?

Noah Berkson: Yeah, I think surveying, spraying chemicals, I think the survey space still has a large amount to go. There's still a very small percentage of people leveraging drones. I think a couple of use cases for drones is, one, just cutting out the need for humans to go out and spend a large amount of time, let's say, surveying a property, whether you have one person that's walking around and taking notes or, on the other hand, some people would have planes flying overhead to get imagery, where it's expensive, it's bad for the environment, it's pollutant. So I think drones, in that regard, can play a large role in the future. Then also in the same time with having less expensive heavy machinery, and being able to do things like spraying fields, doing different types of chemicals administered by drones, which is, I think, very much the future of the agriculture industry.

Deidre Woollard: I totally agree. Let's talk a little bit about CashRent because I find it really interesting because you are looking at supply and demand and trying to balance those two. What is the market looking like right now with farmland?

Noah Berkson: I would say that demand far exceeds supply right now. We're at an interesting inflection point because you have the average age of farmers in the US, which is around 58 years old. Of land owners, that is between 55 and 75. It's about 80 percent of the industry. So you have a population where a lot of these people are going to retire or sell off the land that they own. From what we've seen, anytime we have a property that goes up through our platform, we have an average of nine people that are bidding on that property, which I think really shows that the demand is there, and we just want to be able to meet that with supply. But I think on the other front, on the demand side for farmers, it's becoming harder and harder to be a small farm operation. People are getting squeezed and compressed. You have input costs that are rising. You have commodity prices that are fairly volatile. So if you're not continually growing the operations you have, it's very hard to stay in business. Through CashRent, we want to enable that. With that comes having the supply side to meet all the demand that we have.

Deidre Woollard: Are you seeing younger people become interested in being farmers or is that an industry that you feel is starting to have an aging problem?

Noah Berkson: I think that there is an aging problem, but something I think that's very positive on the other side of it, as the younger people that are coming into farming are very open to embracing change and innovation. Whereas before, people weren't as open to or didn't really have the opportunity to embrace technology, embrace different types of new machinery, things that can help really create efficiency in the industry. I think you have a younger population coming in with a little bit different mindset that's going to help that generation thrive in farming. But from an age perspective, you definitely have an age issue where most of the people right now are in a more aging population, 55 and older, where that's going to be transferred to a lot of people that are probably 25-35, so quite a gap.

Deidre Woollard: Definitely, and it seems like there's a bit of a barrier to entry when people talk about getting interested in farming. For you and for CashRent, how did you start to enter that world and make yourself and your product known to existing farmers?

Noah Berkson: I think what was really surprising to us, frankly, was, as soon as we started putting properties up, we launched in early July so we haven't been around a super long time, but we saw just the engagement that was happening through social media, mostly, when we would put up properties, and we were having, on a daily basis, hundreds or thousands of farmers coming to our website looking at those properties because they just never had that tool before. If you look at what was pre-CashRent was, how do you grow your operation, Well, you know a couple of people in town that might be putting their property up for cash rent or a land management company that represents a client and that person reaches out to you, or you see something on a bulletin board in a gas station. It was very manual and non-process driven, and we just wanted to bring transparency to the industry and that's what we've done through the marketplace we have.

Deidre Woollard: Let's talk a little bit about your marketplace because I think it's really interesting that you're using the auction model. The auction format is used in other types of real estates, probably more people think of it in terms of foreclosures, but it's actually used in luxury properties as well. Why was that the right approach for you?

Noah Berkson: One, it's not too different from what the industry looks like today. Well, currently we're not embracing a live auction format, actually. As a land owner, you choose the auction duration. The other piece for us is that high bid doesn't win. In a typical auction, high bid wins. For us, what we've seen is just, with people that are typically bidding the highest price, a lot of times, those farming practices may not be the standards that you are looking for. As a tenant, they might not be the best tenant. People looking for short lease terms and being able to just maximize profit cut corners to do that. For us, we like the auction model because it's not too different from what's happening in the industry today. We didn't want to embrace doing the live auctions because we want landowners to have complete control. So what we do on our side is actually that of the farmers that come onto our platform, we have a pretty extensive process to understand who they are, reference checks, what have they done in the past, how have they left the properties that they farmed before, and then we help the landowner make an informed decision. But at the end of the day, we want them to have complete control over who is coming on to their property, and not put it into a high-bid win scenario. I think, overall, you have companies that are coming into the space to capitalize on that, and do a high-bid win scenario, and we just don't believe that's a best practice for farming.

Deidre Woollard: That's really interesting. You mentioned farming practices. Would that be things like organic? What other things would make a landowner choose a bid that maybe wasn't the highest bid?

Noah Berkson: A lot of times it may be proximity, and maybe that person farms other acreage in that area. So that person may have 300 acres that they do around that area, so you know that they're close enough to that area that they are on a consistent basis that they're going to be able to make sure and keep an eye out on things, and catch things. If anything is happening, they're able to catch it. Previous soil testing. For us, in our contracts, we actually contractually obligate anyone that's farming any property that comes to the platform to leave the soil at the same or a better state than they received it, which is something that just, historically, hasn't really been done in the past. We want to make sure that those people are there for the long term. We want to create long-term relationships. We're not looking for one or two-year leases where it's "maximize profit and get out".

Deidre Woollard: How long are the leases, in general?

Noah Berkson: Generally three years. But we're starting to see them trend upwards to four or five. Just to back up a little bit, what we saw was that people just weren't getting what their land was worth. You have landowners that had signed agreements for, and by signed agreements I mean a handshake deal, but for 10 years for someone to cash rent their property and they do it for the same price for 10 years. Let's say it'd be $200 an acre for 10 years. Every year that price fluctuates, but previously, there was no way to understand what that pricing was. Hence, the lack of transparency that I mentioned. So we want to make sure that the lease terms are long enough that you're going to attract the right farmers to come to those properties, but also not too long that someone's stuck in a pricing structure where it just really doesn't make sense for either party because that's not really fair market value.

Deidre Woollard: I think that's really interesting. Let's talk a little bit about that idea of fair market value because I mentioned in the intro that you've helped landowners get more value for their property. How do you evaluate the property and what it could fetch?

Noah Berkson: Yeah, absolutely. It's much different than the sale price of a property. In the industry today, if you want to understand what your farmland is worth to sell, it's pretty easy to do. It's pretty easy for people to factor that. What we did is just realize that there is no transparency in the space. We went out, basically aggregated an enormous amount of different data sets that we could find, some public, some proprietary, enabled the factor that something that we call CashRentstimate, very similar to a Zillow's Zestimate, to understand the low-end and the high-end for your property. You would come to our site, if I'm a landowner, you'd enter your information. We'd pull up a map, an aerial view of your property. You would then select the tillable acreage of that property, and then we are able to tell you from a low-end and the high-end, this is all we believe your land is worth. Something that's interesting to us, however, is that, on every single property that has been leased through us, the winning bid has actually been over the high-end range of what we believe that land is worth. So going back to the supply and demand, we see there's a whole lot of demand and still a lack of supply. But we see the supply is slowly growing, and I think, over the next five years, there's like 92 Millionacres. Currently, they are slated for new ownership, and that's according to something that was put out maybe a year ago. I think that's only growing.

Deidre Woollard: With Zillow's Zestimate, owners often protest that. Have you had anyone agree or disagree or want to have their CashRentstimate updated? Have you seen it? What's the feedback been like on that?

Noah Berkson: I'm majorly surprised because what we see probably on a weekly basis now is people are submitting CashRentstimates, and they're like, "Hey, I've been getting a $175 an acre. I did a CashRentstimate, it says $295 to $315." Historically, there's been a lot of underpricing, but the reason for that, it's really an industry. I don't know if it's a problem or an issue. But it's really an industry piece where, today, if I am a landowner and I want a cash rent out my property, I'm going to go to the people in my local community that I know. Let's say there's three people, and they're going to all make a bid for what they'll give me for my property. But the bids that they're giving me isn't necessarily informed by what my land is worth, but rather based on their operation size, where can they be profitable. Let's say you have three farmers in that equation, you have someone that can be profitable at $190 an acre, you have someone that can be profitable at $250 an acre, and you have someone else that could be profitable at $315 an acre. We realize that the pricing was really just based on people's ability to be profitable, based on their operation size, not necessarily the value, and that was the light-bulb moment for us.

Deidre Woollard: Interesting. Is this only for land that has already been used as farmland, or have you seen people come to the platform with completely raw land that hasn't been used for farming before?

Noah Berkson: We have seen a little bit of that. Most of it has been previously farmed in the past, at some point. I would say we have a lot of investors that are coming on, land investors that are buying a property, and then they've never done that before. A lot of people are getting into farmland. Investing has become a pretty attractive asset class, especially as we see all those volatility in the markets. So people see that as "Here's a safe bet moving towards the future, that it's going to be a long-term hold for me. I've never bought farmland before, and I find a plot of land in Virginia, I also don't live in Virginia nor do I know anything about farming. So I'd buy this piece of property. I'm not going to farm it, so I am going to cash rent it, but how do I do that?" So I think there's a lot of just not really knowing the process. What we think we solve with our platform is just a very easy way to understand what's it's worth, and then connects you to a tenant who can farm that property. I think that's only going to increase.

Deidre Woollard: I think that's really true. I have seen that as well. It's that there is an increase in buying raw land, but then there is a question of people buying land and then not necessarily knowing what they want to do with it. Does it make sense to farm it? Does it make sense to hold it? Can CashRent help people make that decision?

Noah Berkson: Yes, absolutely. Right now, we take it very white-glove approach to every landowner that comes onto our platform. Whether you're bringing a single 50-acre property or you're bringing a couple of thousand acres, we have a very white-glove approach. We want to actually meet you, talk to you, understand what are your goals with this, and help you make the most informed decision because, for us, we want lifetime customers. I think that's the best way to breed that.

Deidre Woollard: How do you verify that the land is what the person says it is? Do people have to submit things? Obviously, you can't go in person and check out all the land yourself. So what is that vetting process like?

Noah Berkson: Yeah, exactly. We'll verify ownership of the property, make sure the person that has that property is the owner of it. There's actually a lot of public data available to verify that, so we know that this person does own it. Here's the total acreage. Here's the tillable acreage. Also there's a lot of discrepancies, even in public information compared to private. You think you're buying this, and then you go out and measure it, it's actually five acres less than I thought it was, or than it says publicly. So we're catching a lot of those errors as well, which is a funny by-product.

Deidre Woollard: Absolutely. In terms of the soil analysis, is that something that they do on their own, or is that something that you assist with?

Noah Berkson: Actually, we're starting to facilitate the soil testing. We're working with partners to do that, but we just want to make that process very seamless and easy. Based on our buying power, being a larger business that's doing this on behalf of thousands of people as opposed to a single farmer or landowner, we're able to get a little bit more preferable pricing there as well.

Deidre Woollard: Excellent. Thank you. This is a great place to take a short break.

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Deidre Woollard: I'm back with Noah Berkson of CashRent, and we're talking about owning and renting farmland. I saw that you've raised a seed funding round, and I noticed that it included money from farmers and landowners, so tell me a little bit about that journey.

Noah Berkson: Yeah, absolutely. Because we've all been entrepreneurs, we actually planned to self-fund the business and to not raise capital. What happened after we launched is we started to just get cold reachout from landowners and farmers that had seen what we were doing and said, "Hey, we've believed this is the future of the industry. Are you guys taking on any investment?" We mold that over and we said, what better indicator is there of product market set than seeing the customers that you have willing to invest in the platform. So we did around the financing from landowners and farmers, really excited about that, but for us, it's about building a long-term sustainable business. It's not the typical venture, raise tons of money, and get crazy valuations. I think we can have a really meaningful impact in the long term of farming and really become the platform to leased land throughout the entire country. So we're taking a slow approach but, I think, building a very sustainable business that will be around.

Deidre Woollard: Has part of that slow approach been a roll out by state?

Noah Berkson: Yeah, absolutely. We started in Illinois, and then we moved to Iowa, and now we are in, I think, 27 or 28 states. We're doing a slow roll out. I think part of the roll out, or maybe getting to that many states as quickly, has just been starting to partner with land brokers and land managers across the US who want to use our tools as a way to drive more value for their clients. We have a couple of really big partnerships we're really excited about that we'll be announcing in the coming weeks. But, yeah, we want to make sure everything we're doing is sustainable, and we're able to take the time to meet people, build relationships, and not make things transactional.

Deidre Woollard: Interesting. In terms of other partnerships, is that part of your continuing to evolve the platform or is that ways to make the platform bigger? Are there other things that you're looking to do with CashRent?

Noah Berkson: Yeah. I think what we realized and, again, was a surprise to us was, when we launched, we started to have some of the larger land management, land brokerage companies, on a national level that we spoke with that said, "Hey, we really like what you're doing. How can we use this?" We said, "Oh, well, that's really interesting." You already have a client base that you serve, and I think this is a way to provide ancillary value and to also find other people that might be interested in that property but aren't in your immediate area or town that you live in. I think a lot of those partnerships will really be a focal point for us moving forward. But I think anytime you can come into an industry and build partnerships instead of enemies. It makes the journey a lot easier.

Deidre Woollard: It seems to me like there's a lot of innovation happening in agtech in general right now. In many ways, to me, it seems like venture capital is just discovering farmland. Is that your impression, and are there other businesses that you've been keeping an eye on?

Noah Berkson: Real estate tech maybe a little bit more so, if you segment off agriculture tech. Yeah, traditionally, it has not been a venture focus, I think, primarily because there's not a lot of people that have had a long track record in agtech. There have been a few really good exits from companies, but I don't think it's got to the point that's become attractive enough, for some of them maybe main stream and venture capital to get into. I think Farmers Business Network was a big one. Farmers Business Network essentially created like a GPO, a group purchasing organization for farmers to be able to purchase [inaudible 00:23:34] of seeds and chemicals, where, to add maybe to my point earlier, about a lack of transparency before, I could be next door to another farmer, and we may be paying two completely different prices for the same inputs, but we have no idea, and even on the same amount of property. But it's just not something that's transparent. What I really liked about FBN is pretty quickly, they created a lot of enemies. They had a lot of large ag companies that are like, "We're not going to sell you anymore because we don't want to lose the margin by exposing pricing or giving a single price out." I think when you get to that point, you realize early on there's something, and I think they'll continue to do very well.

Deidre Woollard: The intersection of farming and to focus on wellness, focus on sustainability, is part of what's driving some of this, is that what you're saying as well? Do you feel like people want to invest in farmland partly because they want to build a better future?

Noah Berkson: I think it's becoming more mainstream. I think you have probably half of the people that are there for a better future, and maybe half that are saying, "Hey, this is a more sustainable asset class and something that's maybe a little bit less volatile," but in a way, I think that's great, but I think that it's making sure that you have the right people farming those properties because I think the future is very much in farmland, and it's something we absolutely need to protect. Yet you do have a lot of bad actors that come into the space and try and make a quick buck off of doing a one-year lease on a property, cutting a lot of corners to make money, and you have businesses popping up to capitalize on opportunity. I think it's making sure that you eliminate bad actors from the space. But, overall, yes, I think for us, a couple of our goals is, one, enabling small farm operations that continue to thrive. I think, at the pace things are going, over the next five years, it's going to be very hard to be a small farmer, small operation. That's like year-over-year you're making less money, and just looking into the future, it's really hard to forecast. So we want to, one, enable them to be able to find more property to grow their operations to the point that it's sustainable, and, two, as I said, just making sure that people are taking care of the lands. No one is coming in and have some bad farming practices, but rather, is leaving the health of the soil better than they found it. I think that's going to lead to a much better future for everyone.

Deidre Woollard: Absolutely. In terms of consolidation, that's one of the things that I've been wondering about, is these smaller farmers. It's very hard for them to make a living, as you mentioned. There's a lot of big farm out there. Do you feel like the consolidation is something that's going to keep going?

Noah Berkson: Yeah, absolutely. I know just from a quick fact that we have. Currently, about 40 percent of farmland will be turned over in the next 20 years, which is a huge number, 40 percent of farmland in the US. I think, as things get turned over, that's when a lot of consolidation happens. Also, on the other side of it, investors are starting to become a lot more excited about farmland as an asset class, so you have more companies that are coming in and buying up large amounts of farmland, and also opening that up to single investors as well where you can crowdfund farmland. There's all these technology businesses getting built around it. So, yeah, I think consolidation will become much more prevalent, and you'll probably have five or six, whether it's companies or investment groups, that will hold a large percentage of the total farmland across the US.

Deidre Woollard: Interesting. It makes me think of what has happened in real estate where we have individual rental properties being held by larger companies. There could be something like that happening in farming as well.

Noah Berkson: Yeah, absolutely, and I think it's already starting to happen.

Deidre Woollard: If you're looking to buy land for farming, what sort of things should you be looking for as an investor?

Noah Berkson: If you're investing, and I think like the first question is, what's the goal for the land? Is it a pure investment? If so, if it's just a pure investment, it may make sense to either go through a platform that does all of the other pieces for you, where they're managing the property or going through a land manager, or they're managing the property, they're finding the farming tenant, they are making sure you're doing everything the right way. It's very easy to think, "Look, I can buy this farmland," but then not really know everything about it and just not be doing things the right way just because you clearly don't understand. But I think if you're not going to farm it, how are you going to find the right tenant to farm it? Understanding the land's previous use, understanding what the soil holds, acidity, and nutrients, typology, there's actually quite a bit that goes into it. It's really easy to say like, "Oh, it's just a piece of farmland," but to understand previously how it has performed and be able to forecast that into the future, it's far more in-depth and requires some knowledge, either by you spending the time to research it or by starting to leverage someone like a land manager that could help with that process.

Deidre Woollard: Excellent. Does CashRent facilitate the transaction, what happens after the auction, and are you involved in the process after that?

Noah Berkson: Yes. Basically, we facilitate the transaction. The contracts are all executed through us. Then past that, we continue to provide data and other resources to both the farmers and the landowners. We want to make sure, for us, that if you put a piece of property on the platform and you do a three-year lease to somebody, well, after that lease, you want to continue to use our platform. So we'll begin incorporating a number of tools to just better serve landowners and farmers. Financing is one, so giving farmers the ability to finance a lease or landowners the ability to re-fi. Again, just because of the sheer volume that we'll have, we'll be able to get more preferential pricing for people and be able to automate a lot more of that process. Insurance, on the other side, being able to find better insurance rates. Just being able to continue to provide value to both the landowners and farmers, so it always makes sense to use CashRent as the facilitation platform.

Deidre Woollard: I've heard that getting a financing for farmland is far more challenging than it is for other types of real estate. [laughs] You're laughing. I'm guessing that's true?

Noah Berkson: It is absolutely true, and I think it's two-part. It's, one, there's not much technology, so a lot of traditional financial institutions now, you have something called automated decision-making. I can go and type in some information, and they'll tell me right away, "Okay, great, here's what you can get," as opposed to, in a lot of these other, let's say, more community banks, they're just not set up with the infrastructure to do that, nor do they have a lot of that technology. This is going through an investment committee, you're faxing over information. There's just not a lot of automation, which leads to a lot of those issues and just making it slower. So we want to help digitize that and just make it a much more seamless process for all parties involved.

Deidre Woollard: Excellent. You're a venture capitalist. I have to ask what other kinds of problems in farming or in other areas do you think venture capital can solve or will solve?

Noah Berkson: I think in farming, just the lack of transparency around the industry. I think venture capital is a good thing and a bad thing. I think venture capital can help attract people to a space, give someone the resources to actually be successful where maybe 10 years ago, it was really hard to start a company in the agriculture tech space because just purely the resources weren't there, the financing wasn't there. So I think venture capital can be a really great tool to enable that. As a company, you can get the financing and get distribution and have the capital backing to do that. I think lack of transparency is a big piece. We still see that across all of agriculture. As I mentioned, I think what FBN, Farmers Business Network, is doing is great, but I think it's just the start. I think that's fascinating. I think it's just more in-depth technology, understanding forecasting, as we mentioned drones, easier ways to survey properties, understand what's happening in properties, understand farm health, or soil health, things like that. But I think venture capital will play a much larger role, and I can probably count on one hand the number of venture firms that are pretty active in the agtech space or maybe focused on the agtech space, and I think that will probably increase tenfold over the next few years.

Deidre Woollard: I totally agree. You mentioned you're from Iowa. I know Iowa last year had a lot of problems with flooding and a lot of destruction. What are you thinking about climate change and disruption in farmland? I know the water wars are a concern. What else is on your mind?

Noah Berkson: I think climate change is an enormous issue. I think, right now, you have a lot of people that see it as an issue but don't really know what to do, or how can I help. I think carbon credits is something that, at least, has been a way for landowners or farmers to make a little bit of ancillary revenue. I think it's really a fix to large corporations that are just polluting the environment, and that's great. But I think just putting programs in place that allow people to not only care about that, but be able to also tangibly do something to help make a difference. I think that climate change is a huge issue, and you just need more platforms and resources to get people involved in helping change that.

Deidre Woollard: Is that also a factor when it comes to insurance going forward?

Noah Berkson: It absolutely will be. I think just even modeling out new insurance structures and the risk profiles for investors is going to actually make that a little bit harder or more complicated in the future. I know a little bit about the insurance space and how that works internally with the risk modeling. It's already really way more complicated than maybe it needs to be, but then you factor in something that's tangible yet intangible, in a way, because actually measuring how things will change year-over-year is very hard. I think it will add some complexity to farmland investing, especially for the more institutional players, the REITs and institutional landowners, universities, people like that.

Deidre Woollard: How does insurance play a role in farmland investing if there is big storms or things like that? Is it in terms of if the crops don't come in or something like that?

Noah Berkson: Yeah. Getting crop insurance, whether it's destroyed or whether crops don't actually come to fruition, but it's become more and more important. Yet, again, a fragmented space, lack of transparency, hard to understand what's actually happening, there's just no way to actually create a fluid process right now. Right now, you're reaching out to 10 different companies, and for each of those companies, you're submitting different information, and it just gets to a point where you're like, "I'm just going to pick one because it's just not worth the hassle." I hope no one has to make a decision because it's just too complicated or time-consuming to make an informed decision. We're hoping we can help digitize part of that and just provide tools for landowners and farmers that make things really easy for them to do because it's a tough industry. The last thing you need is a headache because all the ancillary things around it that are required just continue to be challenging.

Deidre Woollard: Are you a real estate investor yourself?

Noah Berkson: We're getting into farmland investing, just as a byproduct of CashRent. That's something I'll be digging my teeth into. But otherwise, previously, I've always been on the tech side of it and real estate, you'd say, enablement rather than the physical assets.

Deidre Woollard: Awesome. So you got inspired. I love it. What is your process looking like as you begin?

Noah Berkson: I think we're just actually seeing a good amount of deal flow through our platform and just understanding things that become available for sale because you see properties and ex-landowner reaches out to us and says, "Hey, I'm not going to renew my lease in two years," or any year, whatever that might be, and we're like, "Oh, why not?" They say, "Oh, I'm going to sell my property." So we're finding things, I would say, maybe pre-market in a way, so at least being able to say, "Hey, this is really interesting." For us, it's a bend through our network that we're finding that and, from a lot of Iowa connections, where that's happening. But on the other side, if anyone's interested in investing in farmland, you could type farmland investing into Google and you'll see 20 companies that have come into the space and allow you as an individual investor to buy part of a piece of property that then gets cash rented out, or crowdfund, or buy property outright and have a land manager manage it, sale leasebacks. There's all these different opportunities right now to become a farmland investor. Just get educated on the space. It's something that has stability, and it's something a lot less volatile than it looks like the markets will be. We see it as a safe bet, but again, just understand everything that goes into that process, as it isn't just, "Here's a piece of farmland I own," but there's a lot more that goes into it.

Deidre Woollard: I think that's true. We've interviewed a couple of the people who are involved in some of the farmland crowdfunding platforms, and they're just seeing so much interest right now. They're seeing so many individual retail investors who've never really considered farmland before start to become interested in it. I'm not sure if it's an impact of stock market volatility or if it's partly because of, I think, we're all a little more back to nature in the wake of the pandemic, but there definitely seems to be more interest in farmland investing in the whole, in my opinion.

Noah Berkson: Yeah. I think also just you start to see some of these business titans that people look up to like Bill Gates, one of the largest farmland owners in the US. I think Warren Buffett has a big portfolio of farmland. You start to realize that all of these people have, under the radar for years, been buying farmland, and five years ago, that wasn't the sexy thing, so news wasn't really covering it, but now it's like, "Well, while everything else is in frenzy, look at these stable investments that these people have been making." So I think that's also starting to draw quite a crowd.

Deidre Woollard: Absolutely. Last question. Is there any real estate investor or entrepreneur that you really admire and consider a mentor, even if it's just by reading what they write or something like that?

Noah Berkson: I would say I'm still a little early on in the journey in identifying those people, but I think through CashRent, we've been able to start meeting quite a few incredible entrepreneurs that really are mission-driven and are very focused on changing the landscape. Hopefully, next time I'm on, I'll have a better answer for you. But as of now, just seeing that you have a lot of incredible entrepreneurs that are in this space, and I think what's important is you have people not only that come from the, let's say, farm or agriculture background, but you have people that are coming from outside the space, and they're saying, "Hey, you're doing it this way today, why don't you do it this way?" I think that, "Why don't you do it this way?" is really important because it challenges the quo. While people may be a little bit naive because they haven't been in the industry before, as they come in, they start to maybe help do things a different way and that inspires a change. I think that's really important. So hopefully we start to see more farmland entrepreneurs, agriculture entrepreneurs that are really embracing technology and helping make an impactful change.

Deidre Woollard: Awesome. Well, Noah, thank you for your time today. Just a reminder for listeners, you can find out more at cashrent.com.

Noah Berkson: Thanks, Deidre.

Deidre Woollard: Stay well and stay invested. [MUSIC]

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