Start-up CashRent brings transparency to the farmland marketplace
Chris Baumann bought his first hobby farm in Illinois in 2013 – a mix of tillable and timber – and quickly learned that the process of investing in and renting out the land is murky at best.
“My renter and I started out with a 50/50 crop share, handshake agreement and we followed that structure for a couple of years, Baumann says. “I was getting seed and fertilizer bills and couldn’t decipher where those inputs were going exactly; it wasn’t transparent. So I asked my famer to do a simple cash rental agreement and he pitched me the price of $150 per acre.”
That’s when Baumann decided to dig into the value of the farm. In his spare time, he used GPS to map out the land (and discovered two additional acres made up the parcel), took soil samples to measure soil health, pulled data from local ag extensions, and finally proposed $220 per acre back to the farmer.
The vast disconnect between those two numbers prompted Baumann to call on Brad Belser to talk about how often land is undervalued and what resources landowners lack when seeking a new renter.
Both have backgrounds in real estate and Baumann is a lifelong entrepreneur, so they naturally began to work on a solution together.
“We talked about building an online resource to educate and inform landowners the true value of their land and help them determine a fair rental rate,” Baumann explains. “We know the rate isn’t static and will be based off of commodity prices, input prices, size of operation, and other variables.”
Bringing this amount of clarity to the land marketplace did make Baumann and Belser question how farmers would react.
“The feedback we’ve gotten for CashRent has been the exact opposite of what we though,” Baumann says. “Farmers get an opportunity to grow their operation. They all pay different rates; for example, there may be a farmer with 10,000 acres paying less for inputs who could actually pay more of a cash rental rate. Farming is a business and people are willing to take on more risk and pay different rates. This just provides transparency to the marketplace.”
How it Works
CashRent is a web-based software that is free to a landowner. Landowners can apply for a CashRentstimate online, which is an estimated cash rent value and soil quality map, then post a listing of their property.
Farmers within a 60-mile radius of that listing are notified of the available land and CashRent proceeds to market the listing and opens bidding within 24 hours.
The data behind CashRentstimates is aggregated in-house and broken down into county-level information. Belser says productivity index, soil type, rainfall amounts, average temperatures, and other variables factor into the value of the land and a CashRentstimate reflects it.
“Our data sets and algorithm are ever evolving,” Baumann says. “As we get more rental rates that land produces and input those, it becomes more dynamic. About 90% of online auctions result in a lease that is above our estimate.”
Some variables are challenging to factor in like drainage and field tile if there isn’t public information to pull from.
“We try to be very conservative on the numbers and produce a CashRentstimate that is a range, and most of the time the final value is on the high end of our estimate,” Belser says. “We’re seeing an average of over a 37% increase in ROI for the landowners.”
He adds that the highest bidder doesn’t always win.
Farmers who create accounts fill out an in-depth profile with details about their current operation, which gives landowners a snapshot of who they are, helping them ultimately decide which bidder to select. The farmer pays 4% of the gross lease to CashRent at the time the lease is executed.
Transparency is woven throughout. As a third-party platform that tracks real-time rental rates, one benefit to farmers is that it can be used as a resource when commodity prices swing and there is a need to adjust their current agreement with the landowner.
Future of CashRent
CashRent serves landowners and farmers across 20 states in the Midwest with a primary focus on corn and soybean operations.
The company continues to develop services for pastureland and irrigated acres. And while the purpose behind CashRent was originally to educate and inform farmers and landowners of the value of their land, it’s now grown to become a useful tool for farm managers.
“Farm managers can find out what fair rental rates are and give their landowner clients more marketing power, insight into farmers in the area, and more competitive bids,” Baumann explains.
In what has been a very fragmented industry, CashRent is serving as a central source for all parties invested in the land.
“In many cases, the ground is the most valuable asset that folks will ever own and we just want to make sure that they're getting what they deserve out of it and that it’s being taken care of, simply by providing a reliable resource,” Belser says.
Belser and Baumann both recognize the farmer as the ultimate steward of the land.
“We want to give farmers an opportunity to grow their operation,” Baumann says. “Because typically in this industry, if land trades hands, it's very hard to grow your operation, to get the chance pick up another piece of leased ground without stepping on someone’s toes. We feel this is a win-win for everyone moving forward.”
Background: CashRent is a data-centric farmland marketplace and land management system.
Founders: Chris Baumann and Brad Belser
Launched: June 2020
Headquarters: Morton, Illinois