At first glance, it may appear the financial industry and agriculture do not have very much in common, but two 39 year olds and former finance professionals have found a profitable common denominator.
Daniel Little and Gabe Santos met at a mutual friend's birthday party while working in Hong Kong for JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, respectively.
"We figured out we were both entrepreneurs trapped within these large institutions," Santos says, who grew up in Los Angeles. They also quickly realized they both had a deep-seated appreciation for agriculture.
After using vacation days to fly from Hong Kong to the U.S. to assess farmland and to put together a team, the duo co-founded Homestead Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm with $574.5 million assets under management raised through two separate funds.
Among their largest investors are Oregon Treasury, Washington State Investment Board, and the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.
When it comes to farmland investment decisions, the key for Little and Santos is straying away from the one-size-fits-all approach: Sometimes they acquire unused farmland and bring in an individual to operate the farm, other times they take over the lease on a farm and work with the existing farmer.
Ray Brownfield, who is now a regional manager for Homestead Capital, has worked in the farmland acquisition business for 44 years and has overseen approximately 500,000 acres in acquisitions.
"I've worked for a lot of other people who haven't put money back into the land, and I can tell you that is not the case with Homestead," says Brownfield. "We had one farm that needed about $20,000 of new tile and Gabe and Dan said: 'OK, let's do it.' Gabe and Dan even came to see it once it was done."
Homestead Capital currently oversees 18 crop types on 27 investment projects in 13 states.