Sustainable Agriculture Investing With Harvest Returns (Review)

Harvest Returns is an innovative crowdfunding platform that lets you invest in sustainable agriculture with as little as $5,000.

SustainFi July 14, 2021

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Rating: Good (3.8 / 5)

Summary

  • Investment Type: varies
  • Minimum Investment: from $5,000 (many deals have $10,000 minimums)
  • Targeted Return: varies, 8% to 61% for prior deals
  • Maturity: 2+ years
  • Liquidity: none
  • Some deals are open to non-accredited investors; others are accredited-investor only
  • Fees and expenses: vary, including a management fee and profit-sharing

Pros

  • Harvest Returns and similar platforms make investing in agriculture accessible
  • Harvest Returns lets you visit the farm you’ve invested in (and, in some cases, before investing)
  • Diversification benefits (agriculture has historically had a low correlation with other asset classes)
  • Farmland and agriculture investments can protect your portfolio against inflation
  • The minimum investment is relatively low for this type of asset
  • Open to international investors
  • Some deals are open to non-accredited investors

Cons

  • Many deals are open to accredited investors only
  • New platform with a limited track record
  • Marketed returns are very high (and likely come with high risks)
  • You pick one investment at a time, so you are not diversified
  • No secondary market for your investment
  • Climate change could impact farm values in the future

What is Harvest Returns?

Harvest Returns is an innovative agriculture crowdfunding platform. Chris Rawley, a former U.S. naval officer, started Harvest Returns in 2016 to help small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers raise capital for sustainable farming and generate returns for investors.

The platform has featured multiple sustainable investments, such as hydroponic and organic farms and a plant-based animal feed company. It also offers a fund that invests in opportunity zones (underserved areas in the U.S.)

Unlike other agriculture crowdfunding platforms, Harvest Returns has featured some unique opportunities, including:

  • An organic hemp CBD lab in Colorado
  • A cocoa farm in Ghana
  • Multiple hydroponic farms
  • A bamboo farm in Florida
  • A microalgae farm in New Jersey

The platform has also featured investments in grass-fed, regenerative cattle ranches. (There is an ongoing debate about the sustainability of cattle farming, even if grass-fed. Harvest Returns takes the view that cattle have been around for thousands of years, promoting soil health if raised on grass and grass-fed.)

Harvest Returns Opportunity Zone Fund

Harvest Returns offers the Sustainable Agriculture Opportunity Zone Fund to accredited investors. The minimum investment is $25,000.

The U.S. government created Qualified Opportunity Zones in 2017 to stimulate economic development in underserved areas. Those who invest in these zones can get material tax benefits by reinvesting and keeping their money in the fund for a period of time (five to ten years.)

The Harvest Returns Fund seeks to support the agricultural industry in disadvantaged U.S. regions. It aims to invest in sustainable agriculture companies, such as regenerative soil farming and organic conversions.

How does Harvest Returns select the investments on its platform?

Harvest Returns does diligence on each deal, including bad actor checks and visiting the farm where possible. However, the platform is too new to have a solid track record.

However, Harvest Returns receives a percentage of profits from the investments, so their incentives should be aligned with the investors.

The founder goes into more detail on the investment process on the Scaling Sustainability podcast.

What are the investment terms on the Harvest Returns platform?

Many offerings, including the Opportunity Zone Fund, are only open to accredited investors. To be accredited, you must: 

  • Earn an annual income of over $200,000 per year for the last two years ($300,000 per household) with the expectation of maintaining such level of income this current year
  • Have a net worth of greater than $1 million (individually or jointly), excluding the value of your primary residence

Some transactions are open to non-accredited investors.

Types of accounts offered.  Harvest Returns supports several account types:

  • Individual taxable accounts
  • Self-directed IRAs
  • Investments made via LLCs

Minimum investment. The minimum investment for most deals is between $5,000 and $15,000. The minimum investment in the Harvest Returns Opportunity Zone Fund is $25,000.

Fees. Fees vary by the transaction type, including annual management fees and profit-sharing.

Can you sell your investment early? Harvest Returns offers multiple investment terms, some as short as 24 months. Generally, you can’t exit your investment early.

How you can invest. The website lets you easily sign up and start investing online. For some offerings, you need to upload information verifying your accredited status. This could include a letter from an attorney or personal accountant.

Is Harvest Returns safe?

Like any alternative investment, agriculture investing is risky. Some deals on the Harvest Returns platform advertise very high returns, implying high risk.

Further, the impact of climate change on any farm or piece of land is uncertain. Your investment could experience floods, droughts, fires, and other issues. Investments offered in foreign jurisdictions, such as Ghana, come with geopolitical risk.

In addition, Harvest Returns is a relatively new platform that was established in 2016.

You should only invest a small percentage of your assets.

Harvest Returns vs. FarmTogether

Although both Harvest Returns and FarmTogether are new agriculture crowdfunding platforms, the types of opportunities they offer are different.

Where Harvest Returns wins:

  • More types of investments, including algae, sustainably raised cattle, and hemp
  • International opportunities (such as cocoa in Ghana)
  • Lower minimum investment ($5,000 vs. $15,000 for FarmTogether)
  • You may be able to visit the farm before investing
  • Some opportunities are open to non-accredited investors
  • Shorter-term investments (starting at two years vs. five-plus years with FarmTogether)

Where FarmTogether wins:

  • More focus on farmland
  • More opportunities in traditional crops and permanent crops (like apple orchards)
  • A sustainability certification from Leading Harvest
  • More transparency around fees and past transactions

🔔 Read our review of FarmTogether.

Harvest Returns vs. Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT

Iroquois Valley also lets you invest in farmland, albeit in a pool of assets, not in individual plots of farmland.

Where Harvest Returns wins:

  • More types of investments, including algae, sustainably raised cattle, and hemp
  • International opportunities (such as cocoa in Ghana)
  • Lower minimum investment ($5,000 vs. $10,506 for Iroquois)
  • You may be able to visit the farm before investing
  • Shorter-term investments (starting at two years vs. five years with Iroquois)

Where Iroquois wins:

  • You get to invest in a diversified pool of assets
  • All assets are certified organic or are transitioning to organic

🔔 Read the review of Iroquois.

💰 Takeaway

Harvest Returns offers interesting agriculture investment opportunities. You can probably find something close to your heart. However, personal finance professionals do not recommend investing more than 5-15% of your portfolio in agriculture. We would also be cautious when investing with an unproven platform.


🔔 Looking for other ways to invest with impact? Check our guide to investing in communities and small businesses.

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