|Title||Aardpeer Retail Bonds for Sustainable Farming Transition|
|Size||€7 million (initial raise) Further €3 million raise|
|Revenue Model||Affordable renting of long-term land to farmers contributing to the transition to sustainable and nature-friendly farming methods|
|Private Investment/Finance Structure||Retail bonds via crowdlending platform|
|Public/Philanthropic Investment||Some donations and Foundation funding|
|Env/Social Impact||Stable and affordable land lease prices for farmers transitioning to sustainable practices, improved soil health, water quality and biodiversity and social impact.|
Aardpeer tackles the challenge of increased land prices by working with farmers to lease agricultural land that will enable them to transition to sustainable and nature-friendly farming. The land is acquired by Aardpeer and leased to farmers at affordable rates over a long-term (up to seven generations), with some €10 million issued to date.
In the Netherlands, some 60% of land is reserved for farming, but, with urbanisation, the amount of green and arable land in the Netherlands is rapidly shrinking – an estimated 10,000 hectares a year is being lost. In addition, generations of farmers without successors, are ageing out of farming and are selling off land.
As demand for land has increased, land prices across the Netherlands have ballooned – no longer reflecting the profits to be made through agricultural returns. In 2021 prices were an average €65,000 per hectare, and in certain regions, where the land market is very competitive, as much as €140,000 per hectare.
The increased cost of land has forced farmers to intensify their land use, using a greater amount of inputs which have resulted in a degradation of soil health and biodiversity. In the Netherlands, one third of animal species are endangered. Numbers of Black Tailed Godwit (limosa limosa) – an iconic Dutch meadow bird – for example, have plummeted more than 70% in the last 50 years.
Now, more farmers are looking to convert to practices that regenerate the soils and provide a sustainable and nature-friendly method of farming.
Yet, given land prices, farmers cannot afford to buy adjacent land that would allow them to expand and extensify their land use. For example, says Nina van der Giessen, working for non-profit Aardpeer: “Dairy farmers seeking to become more nature-friendly will need more land for their current number of cows.”
Farmers, therefore, need upfront investment or loans to acquire the land or lease it on a long-term basis. In many cases, farmers also need a two-year period to transition their land and to apply for ecolabels. This can mean two years’ of reduced productivity.
“Unfortunately banks in the Netherlands are hesitant to support farmers in this transition,” says van der Giessen. And while there are funding opportunities for Dutch farmers through subsidies and EU grants to help transition to sustainable practices, she adds that “it is quite a bureaucratic process and does not support land acquisition.”
Structure and Platform
Aardpeer seeks to solve this problem by removing land from speculative market and offers an alternative for land acquisition for sustainable farming. One of its founders, Foundation Stichting BD Grondbeheer – a long-term owner of land dedicated to biodynamic and sustainable farming – buys land on behalf of farmers and rents it out on a long-term basis and at an affordable rate based on the farmers’ revenues. The model ensures the land is held for seven generations to provide long-term property for sustainable land use. To raise the finance to buy the land, Aardpeer uses a crowd-lending platform offering retail lenders an investment in a sustainable and nature-friendly future at a competitive interest rate over the medium to long-term via a bond. Donations are also accepted.
Aardpeer translates literally as ‘jerusalem artichoke’ but van der Giessen points out it is a play on words of Aard – meaning earth or land – and peers. “It’s like “working together for land,” she says. Aardpeer is a collaboration between Stichting BD Grondbeheer, Stichting Herenboeren NL, Stichting Wij.land and Triodos Regenerative Money Centre. Triodos provided a start-up loan that was largely paid back through the issue of the first bonds, and Stichting BD Grondbeheer acts as the bond issuer.
The first bond issuance was offered by Stichting BD Grondbeheer on the platform Sustainable Investing and closed March 2021. It offered five-year and ten-year bonds yielding an annual interest rate of 0.7% and 1.2% respectively.
Minimum investments were €500, and over 700 investors bought bonds says van der Giessen ranging from “private individuals, even students, social organisations to institutional investors investing more than €500,000.”
In total, €7.2 million euros was raised allowing for the acquisition of 93 hectares for five farm businesses.
A second raise was launched in December 2021 – a 15-year bond offering 1.3% on an annual basis. Minimum investments are €1.000., and the ambition is to raise €3.1 million to buy five plots of land.
Selecting Land and Partners
To source land, farmers contact Aardpeer with concrete proposals for land acquisition that Aardpeer then reviews for purchase. The rental leases to the farmers vary given natural conditions and sustainable operations. Says van der Giessen: “For example, a farmer that produces beetroots through biological methods at large scale on fertile soil has a different business-case to a small CSA start-up (Community Supported Agriculture). All leases are reviewed as farmers’ evolve in their transition and we are committed to ensuring that all are fair and affordable.”
Van der Giessen says more than 70 farmers applied for the first round of funding with proposals for over 90 million euros and more are expected in current and future rounds.
Farmers are considered that:
- restore the balance between nature and agriculture;
- improve soil quality;
- increase biodiversity;
- close the natural cycle (circular agriculture);
- are committed to animal welfare;
- create humane working conditions;
- try to be completely self-sufficient;
- want to be independent as an entrepreneur;
- connect with their customers and local community.
- Interview with Nina van der Giessen, Aardpeer ‘samen voor grond’