Bonnefield Newsletter – Q1 2022

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Interest Rate Increases on the Horizon

We are seeing it at the grocery store and the gas pump – prices are rising. The topic of inflation is receiving a lot of attention as observers wait to see how governments will act to address those rising prices. With central banks around the world either considering or already increasing interest rates in 2022 to combat inflation, we are reminded that the prolonged low interest rate environment that has prevailed in Canada for more than a decade is atypical in the context of long-term monetary policy and is unlikely to persist  indefinitely. In January 2022, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem noted in an interview during the same week that, “the message is pretty clear. We’re on a rising path.” (1).

More recently, on March 2nd 2022, Bank of Canada’s target for the overnight lending rate (a key benchmark for lending rates in Canada) was raised to 0.50% from 0.25% (2), marking the first time rates have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. In an accompanying statement, the Bank of Canada noted the emergence of conflict in Ukraine has led to increased uncertainty in global markets and has also caused prices for oil and other commodities to rise sharply in recent weeks, which will increase inflationary pressure above what was initially anticipated in January 2022 (2).

As a source of alternative financing for Canadian farmers, and a manager of a diversified portfolio of Canadian farmland, Bonnefield is often asked what impact rising rates may have on farm operators and farmland values in Canada. We’ve provided some thoughts on this complex relationship in the following sections.

A Recent History of Inflation and Interest Rates in Canada

As of February 2022, the Canadian Consumer Price Index (“CPI”; index of all goods including gasoline) rose again to 5.7%, remaining above the Bank of Canada’s target normalized range of 1-3% reaching its highest level since August 1991 (3). Generally, prices begin to increase when the demand for goods and services outpaces the supply of those goods and services in the economy. Price inflation in turn reduces the purchasing power of individuals, which can have a significant impact on the overall standard of living.

When faced with increasing levels of price inflation, central banks have few policy options to cool price increases and to alleviate the financial strain caused by elevated prices for goods and services. A gradual increase in key lending rates, such as the Bank of Canada’s target overnight rate, can help to reduce spending, thus tempering the demand side of the equation and slowly reducing inflationary pressures. Despite a now-lengthy cycle of low rates and the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very apparent that increased interest rates are on the horizon. When asked about the timing of target rate hikes, Tiff Macklem responded to reporters in January 2022, “How far and how fast? Those are decisions we’ll take at each meeting, depending on economic developments, depending on our outlook for inflation, and what we judge is needed to bring inflation back to target.” (1)

Canadian Consumer Price Index (CPI) Monthly 12-Month Percentage Change Data (2016-2022)

Source: Bank of Canada, Statistics Canada.

Interest Rates on Farm Balance Sheets

From a balance sheet perspective, while the principal amount of a loan is not directly affected by a change in borrowing costs, the total amount of capital that must be repaid to lenders over time increases when rates rise. In turn, this increases the overall financial riskiness of farmers’ balance sheets and leads operators to carefully consider whether certain expenditures and investments are necessary.

From a profitability standpoint, the rates charged by financial institutions on traditional loans can represent a substantial expense for farm operators that primarily use debt to fund their operations, much like many other businesses. Interest rate increases are typically used by central banks as a tool to help temper rising inflation, and inflation also causes the cost of key inputs for farming operations (such as fertilizer, seeds, fuel, and equipment) to rise. Combined, an increase in borrowing rates coupled with elevated input costs can put significant pressure on farm profitability. However, as inflationary pressure also affects the market prices for key food commodities, some of that input cost pressure can be offset by increases in farm revenues and incomes.

Interest Rates and Farmland Values

Given the relationship between inflation and interest rates, and farmland’s demonstrated inflation-hedging  characteristics, Bonnefield’s investment thesis is that in times of high inflation, Canadian farmland values perform strongly. Historically, farm incomes have increased during inflationary periods and strong farm incomes lead to rising farmland prices.

When valuing farmland, one of the most widely accepted approaches to establishing property values is to divide the rental income that can be generated by a property by a discount rate, which is based on an adjusted “risk-free” interest rate (often a Government of Canada bond yield or, more recently, the Canadian Overnight Repo Rate Average, “CORRA”). This equation, referred to as the capitalization method of valuation, effectively assesses the present value of potential future income generated by a property. Interest rates are a central part of the valuation equation and a higher discount rate (denominator) with no change to the rental income component would decrease the resulting value.

With that said, farm incomes are the single strongest direct drivers of farmland values, and the momentum in market prices for key commodities observed in 2021, and so far in 2022, suggests that incomes will remain healthy in the near-term. Further, while interest rate increases are coming more clearly into view, the overall cost of borrowing is still low compared to historic levels.

Over the years, Bonnefield has observed that when lending is relatively inexpensive and farm incomes are strong, farm operators have been eager to borrow funds to acquire additional land. In 2021, we also saw a high level of transaction activity in the market for Canadian farmland driven by both farmers having ample cash on-hand, as well as pent-up demand after relatively depressed activity in 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Could Rising Interest Rates Impact Bonnefield’s Farmland Holdings?

Bonnefield’s core strategy is to invest in a diversified portfolio of prime Canadian farmland on a long-term, fully unlevered basis. We expect that rising interest rates will have a minimal impact on the value of farmland held by our investment partnerships or on the funds’ profitability. Further, as the leading provider of sale leaseback financing to Canadian farmers, Bonnefield’s partnership-based approach to providing an alternative source of capital to the agricultural community has helped many of our farm partners to strengthen their balance sheets by reducing debt. As such, we anticipate that our farmers will weather rising interest rates well. As always, we remain prepared to assist strong Canadian farmers who may have become over-levered by entering into long-term sale leaseback arrangements that allow operators to free up capital, clean up and stabilize their balance sheets, and invest in their businesses.

Having been a trusted partner of farm operators for over 12 years, Bonnefield has seen a number of economic conditions. One thing we know is that farmers are creative and resilient, able to adjust to a wide variety of market conditions in order to maximize the value of their operations. We are confident that this period of inflation and increased interest rates will prove to be no different and Bonnefield is available to support these operators through economic cycles.

About Bonnefield Financial

Bonnefield is the foremost provider of land-lease financing for farmers in Canada. Bonnefield is dedicated to preserving farmland for farming, and the firm partners with growth-oriented farmers to provide farmland leasing solutions to help them grow, reduce debt, and finance retirement and succession. The firm’s investors are individuals and institutional investors who are committed to the long term future of Canadian agriculture. www.bonnefield.com

 

Contributing Authors:

Andrea Gruza
Managing Partner

Lauren Michell
Senior Principal

Sources:

(1) Reuters News, January 26th, 2022
(2) Bank of Canada, March 2nd, 2022
(3) Statistics Canada, March 16th, 2022

 

This document is for information purposes only and does not constitute an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities in any jurisdiction in which an offer or solicitation is not authorized. Any such offer is made only pursuant to relevant offering documents and subscription agreements. Bonnefield funds (the “Funds”) are currently only open to investors who meet certain eligibility requirements. The Funds will not be approved or disapproved by any securities regulatory authority. Prospective investors should rely solely on the Funds’ offering documents which outline the risk factors in making a decision to invest. No representations or warranties of any kind are intended or should be inferred with respect to the economic return or the tax consequences from an investment in the Funds. The Funds are intended for sophisticated investors who can accept the risks associated with such an investment including a substantial or complete loss of their investment.

Bonnefield Newsletter – Q4 2021

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Canadian Farmland & Inflation

It is impossible to read the news these days without seeing inflation-related headlines. Canadian inflation rates have generally been low and stable in recent years. However, recent data puts inflation at the forefront of investors’ minds. As countries around the world begin to emerge from the wide-scale restrictions and shutdowns implemented in early 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation numbers have steadily crept up with the latest year-over-year Canadian Consumer Price Index (CPI, all items including gasoline; a key inflation measure) coming in at 4.7% for October 2021 – the highest rate since 2003(1).

This is certainly notable, as the Bank of Canada typically targets inflation of 2% over the medium term with its target range being 1-3%(2). In recent years, inflation has hovered at the low end of that range.

Canadian Consumer Price Index (CPI), Monthly 12-Month Percentage Change Data (2016-2021)


Source: Statistics Canada, October 2021

As inflation creeps up, many investors ask what can be done to preserve the long-term value of their assets. Gold is often cited as an asset which provides inflation-hedging characteristics but farmland is increasingly being recognized as having similar characteristics while experiencing less volatility and historical downside protection(3).

Canadian Farmland as an Inflation Hedge

Canadian farmland values have historically demonstrated a strong positive correlation to inflation, as measured by the Canadian Consumer Price Index (CPI), with the relationship being particularly notable in years of high inflation. Between 1952 and 2020, when Canadian CPI rose between 1% and 3% year-over-year, the average year-over-year change in Canadian farmland values was approximately 7%. However, when Canadian CPI increased 5% or more, the average change in Canadian farmland values year-over-year was significantly higher at approximately 16%(4).

This relationship between inflation and farmland values can largely be explained by increasing commodity prices and the dynamic created by increasing global demand for food, driven by continued global population growth and an inherently limited supply of arable land. Simply put, commodity inflation generally increases farm incomes, and as farm incomes increase, so too do farmland values.

We note that in the late 1980s, farmland prices did not increase in line with inflation due to some unique features of the time period. Total absolute debt levels in the Canadian agricultural sector increased at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 15% between 1973 and 1981(5) as farmers took on debt to fund real estate purchases as land values continued to rise. Then, between the late 1970s and early 1980s, we saw rapidly increasing, high interest rates to control inflation, with the Bank Rate reaching as high as 21% in August 1981 (compared to approximately 10% in August 1980)(6). The high interest rates of the early 1980s affected farmland values by decreasing the affordability of traditional loans, including agricultural financing which resulted in a wave of farmers (particularly in Western Canada) entering into insolvency.

The unique confluence of factors that led to a compression of farmland values in the mid- to late 1980s has not recurred since. While there has been some fluctuation, total Canadian farm sector debt levels have generally grown at much more modest levels from the early 1990s onward(7), and interest rates have remained at historic low levels for over a decade.

Historical Canadian CPI and Canadian Farmland Values (1952-2020)


Source: Statistics Canada.
Note: Data represents annual changes from December 1952 – December 2020 in Canadian farmland values and annual change in Canadian CPI. Farmland year over year return data represents land values only.

The current environment seems to be playing out differently compared to the 1980s, with guidance from most central banks remaining accommodative. In its most recent Monetary Policy Report, the Bank of Canada indicated that it expects CPI inflation to ease in 2022 as pandemic-related disruptions to supply gradually begin to fade[7], and appears to be committed to maintaining the policy rate at the lower end to continue stimulating the economy(8).

Finally, we anticipate continued strength in market prices for Canada’s key agricultural commodities (wheat, soy, canola, and corn).

Key Agricultural Commodity Prices (2015-2021)

Source: Bank of Canada, Bloomberg News, Grain Farmers of Ontario, ICE Data, OMAFRA.

Strong market prices for these commodities, like the multi-year highs observed in 2021, can translate directly into increased farm incomes that leave farm operators with more cash on-hand and contribute to strong activity in the Canadian farmland market.

Recent Trends in Farmland Values

Farmland is a long-term asset class with limited transaction windows as farmers typically do not buy or sell farmland between seeding in the spring and harvest in late fall. As such, we typically expect values to lag broad market conditions and do not look to quarterly updates as fully reflective of future performance. With that said, as an active farmland owner across Canada, Bonnefield is seeing high and increasing demand for land in some premium farmland regions, supporting strong farmland values.

Farm Credit Canada (FCC) reported in late September 2021 that, despite drought conditions that affected Western Canada during the summer months and a relatively slow overall economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, strength in key commodity prices and the prolonged low interest rate environment continued to support both strong demand and increased prices for Canadian farmland. FCC reported an average year-over-year increase in Canadian farmland values across all provinces of 6.1% as of July 2021, with a notable 15.4% year-over-year increase in farmland values in Ontario, which is home to many of the country’s prime farming regions(9).

Bonnefield’s internal analysis based on third-party appraisals of our properties as well as interactions with industry stakeholders support the themes highlighted in the FCC report. In Western Canada, appraisers noted property value increases of 3-10% in Manitoba, 5-10% in Saskatchewan, and 3-6% for irrigated farmland in Alberta, year-to-date in 2021. In Eastern Canada, we have seen increases in appraised values of between 2-5% in the Maritimes and Northern, Central, and Eastern Ontario. Like data from FCC, our own experience supports the view that high demand among farm operators for land in Southwestern Ontario is resulting in increases to farmland values of upwards of 10%. We note that the overwhelming majority of transactions that we see in the Canadian market occur farmer-to-farmer with prices reflecting farm operator sentiments for future farm incomes and land value appreciation.

Unlike gold, Canadian farmland values appear to be driven by real returns that drive farm profitability. This supports farmland’s role as an attractive asset class for investors looking to benefit from positive long-term value appreciation that outpaces inflation.

About Bonnefield Financial

Bonnefield is the foremost provider of land-lease financing for farmers in Canada. Bonnefield is dedicated to preserving farmland for farming, and the firm partners with growth-oriented farmers to provide farmland leasing solutions to help them grow, reduce debt, and finance retirement and succession. The firm’s investors are individuals and institutional investors who are committed to the long term future of Canadian agriculture. www.bonnefield.com

 

Contributing Authors:

Bhushan Chiniah
Director, Portfolio Management

Lauren Michell
Director, Capital Markets

Sources:

(1) Statistics Canada, November 2021
(2) Bank of Canada
(3) The Conversation, March 2021
(4) Statistics Canada, May 2021 & October 2021
(5) Statistics Canada, October 2021
(6) Statistics Canada, October 2021
(7) Bank of Canada, October 2021
(8) Bank of Canada, September 2021
(9) Farm Credit Canada, July 2021

 

This document is for information purposes only and does not constitute an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities in any jurisdiction in which an offer or solicitation is not authorized. Any such offer is made only pursuant to relevant offering documents and subscription agreements. Bonnefield funds (the “Funds”) are currently only open to investors who meet certain eligibility requirements. The Funds will not be approved or disapproved by any securities regulatory authority. Prospective investors should rely solely on the Funds’ offering documents which outline the risk factors in making a decision to invest. No representations or warranties of any kind are intended or should be inferred with respect to the economic return or the tax consequences from an investment in the Funds. The Funds are intended for sophisticated investors who can accept the risks associated with such an investment including a substantial or complete loss of their investment.

Bonnefield Newsletter – Q3 2021

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An Increasing Focus on AgTech

Those who follow the agricultural industry will be aware of the increasing attention that agriculture technology (AgTech) firms are receiving, and with it, significant investment dollars. In fact, one of Canada’s largest institutional investors, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) recently made its first AgTech investment through its venture capital arm, Teachers’ Innovation Platform. With the spotlight on the AgTech industry, we wanted to review the role that technology has played in agriculture and explore how ongoing innovation can drive industry performance through the lens of a farmland owner / investor.

Technology in Agriculture: A Driver of Productivity & Farmland Values

Innovation and technological advancements in agriculture have been around for as long as farming itself. The search for increased efficiency to meet growing consumer demands is not going away and significant technological advancements have been made in the agriculture industry over the past several decades. Today, technologies such as GPS Guidance for farming equipment and Site-Specific Crop Management practices allow farmers to be more precise and efficient in crop production. As a farmland owner, this raises a key question: how do technological advancements affect producer income and subsequently, farmland values?

For a conventional crop producer, farm income is a function of underlying commodity prices, expected crop yields, and the cost of crop production. Commodity prices are determined by the global market and, while producers can use certain marketing strategies to help reduce risk, individual producers cannot ultimately influence commodity prices. As such, farm operators looking to improve productivity, and thus profitability, can be better served by finding ways to boost crop yields and lower production costs to increase income.

Since farm incomes are a key driver of farmland value, the result of sustainable increases in overall farm profitability can be seen through appreciation of farmland values, making new advancement in AgTech interesting for not only the farm operator but the farmland investor as well.

Examples of AgTech Areas of Focus
Plant Breeding

While longer growing seasons resulting from climate change certainly play a role in increasing crop yields in certain geographies, advances in agricultural technology are also widely acknowledged as being a major driver of improved yields. Notably, there have been significant advancements in plant science and breeding over the past 30 years. Varieties of certain key crops, such as corn, soybeans, and canola can be engineered to mature over a specific number of growing days to accommodate local growing conditions and allow farmers to plan for crop maturity at desired times, or to be more resilient against certain diseases. This allows farmers to select and seed optimal plant varieties that are best suited to their location and the characteristics of their land.

Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture (also referred to as Site Specific Crop Management) uses aerial and satellite imagery, weather data, and crop health indicators to enable farmers to be more exact in the planting of seeds and the application of fertilizer. For example, variable-rate fertilizer application allows producers to apply the ideal amount of fertilizer to different regions of a single field to maximize crop health and avoid unnecessary overuse of fertilizer. Beyond increasing crop yields, this technology also has considerable benefits from an environmental perspective as it reduces the overall amount of fertilizer required thus preserving supply and limiting unnecessary run-off. Other technologies, such as GPS guidance, have allowed for more accurate planting of crops and fewer wasted acres.

Larger, More Efficient Machinery

Technological advancements have also created significant cost savings in agriculture, and farming operations are larger and more efficient than ever. This is made possible by new technologies such as the large machines that allow producers to plant, fertilize, and harvest greater acreage in less time. Today, large tractors with planting implements spanning over 60 feet in width can cover over 300 acres in a single day, whereas the smaller 15-foot no-till drills of the past would have taken more than four days to cover the same amount of land.

What This Means for Farmland Values

Technological advancements have helped producers to increase yields, reduce costs and have ultimately had a positive impact on farm income and farmland values. As noted in our Q1 newsletter, there has been much excitement in the Canadian farmland market in the first half of 2021, attributable to commodity prices rising to multi-year highs, low transactional activity in 2020, and the prolonged low interest rate environment. However, these factors are cyclical and can shift in a relatively short period of time. In contrast, activities by farm operators and the agriculture sector as a whole, to develop and implement new technologies, increase yields, manage costs, and reduce their environmental footprints are something we believe will support the ongoing capital appreciation of Canadian farmland.

About Bonnefield Financial

Bonnefield is the foremost provider of land-lease financing for farmers in Canada. Bonnefield is dedicated to preserving farmland for farming, and the firm partners with growth-oriented farmers to provide farmland leasing solutions to help them grow, reduce debt, and finance retirement and succession. The firm’s investors are individuals and institutional investors who are committed to the long term future of Canadian agriculture. www.bonnefield.com

 

Contributing Authors:

Mitchell King
Associate, Investment Management

Lauren Michell
Director, Capital Markets

The Benefits of Geographic Diversification in Farmland Investing

We are often asked what sets Bonnefield apart as a leading Canadian farmland manager. While there are many qualities that come to mind (our strong 10+ year track record, institutional quality reporting and administration, and our sale-leaseback model that attracts leading farm partners, just to name a few), diversification is one of the most obvious.

Geographic diversification has been a central theme in Bonnefield’s investment thesis since the firm’s inception over a decade ago. As Canada’s leading farmland investment manager, we invest in more Canadian provinces than any other Canadian agriculture-focused asset manager. We apply a granular approach to diversification, investing in over 30 unique growing regions across the country, and ensuring portfolio diversification across multiple climatic regions, crop types and tenant relationships.

 

Assessing Risk & Return: Sharpe Ratio Analysis

To illustrate the value of diversification in an investment portfolio, we conducted a Sharpe ratio analysis(1) using historical Canadian farmland values between 1985-2019. This type of analysis is a staple of portfolio management theory and a relative measure of the trade-off between risk and return. A higher Sharpe ratio typically suggests a higher potential return per unit of risk taken on and therefore, many investors focus on improving / maximizing the Sharpe ratio of their portfolios.

 

Risk-Return Profile: Diversified Canadian Farmland in a Portfolio (Sharpe Ratio Analysis)(2)

The first takeaway from this analysis is the positive impact on the Sharpe Ratio as a result of increasing the allocation to Canadian farmland (regardless of its diversification) as opposed to holding only publicly traded equity. With its historically stable return profile, Canadian farmland reduces the volatility of returns and, therefore, improves the Sharpe ratio.

The second takeaway is the relative benefit of holding a portfolio with greater diversification amongst its farmland holdings. As seen in the chart above, portfolios consisting of farmland diversified across most provinces in Canada (Bonnefield currently invests in BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, NB, and NS) demonstrate higher Sharpe ratios, indicative of a favourable risk‐return trade-off, compared to those with farmland limited to only the prairie provinces. This illustrates the relative benefits of maximizing potential diversification within the farmland portfolio.

As noted in our Q1 2020 Newsletter, the Canadian agricultural community has been optimistic since the beginning of 2021 given:

  • The backdrop of increased feed demand from China;
  • The reduced crop supply from Brazil and Argentina; and
  • The Russian export tax on wheat.

Combined with a prolonged period of low interest rates, relatively low transactional activity for Canadian farmland in 2020, and the current multi-year high commodity prices for key crops, we continue to believe that Canadian farmland values are poised for an exciting period of strong growth.

As investors explore the benefits of Canadian farmland within their investment portfolios, we encourage them to consider the relative value of exposure to a well-diversified farmland portfolio to minimize volatility and maximize your potential risk-adjusted returns.

 

About Bonnefield Financial

Bonnefield is the foremost provider of land-lease financing for farmers in Canada. Bonnefield is dedicated to preserving farmland for farming, and the firm partners with growth-oriented farmers to provide farmland leasing solutions to help them grow, reduce debt, and finance retirement and succession. The firm’s investors are individuals and institutional investors who are committed to the long term future of Canadian agriculture. www.bonnefield.com

 

 

Source: Farm Credit Canada, Statistics Canada, Yahoo Finance

(1) Sharpe ratios represent a relative measure potential returns compared to potential risk of an investment, and are calculated by dividing i) the excess return above a selected risk-free rate (i.e., average historical rate of return for an asset/investment less a risk-free rate such as the prevailing rate for a Government or Treasury-issued instrument) by ii) the standard deviation of those historical returns.

(2) Analysis contemplates hypothetical portfolios balanced between i) Canadian equities (S&P TSX index) and ii) Statistics Canada farmland values (weighted equally between selected provinces; Bonnefield’s investment provinces include BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, NS, and NB), between 1985 and 2019.

(3) Noted Sharpe ratios assume 100% allocation of a hypothetical portfolio to each of i) Canadian farmland in Bonnefield’s investment provinces, ii) Canadian farmland in AB/SK/MB only, and iii) Canadian equities (S&P TSX index).