Green Acres – Farming in Ecuador
Ok, no Arnold the talking pig, but Ecuador would do Mr. Douglas proud for fertile farming, no matter how many distractions from Mr. Haney. Yes, you have to be a bit dated to remember the rollicking “Green Acres” TV series, made popular in 1965. While reruns can still be found floating about late night TV, this show was really ahead of its time in bringing cutting edge satire to television. The premise was that a “slightly rigid” Mr. Douglas, city slicker attorney (played by Eddie Albert), and his less than brilliant wife (played by Eva Gabor) just packed it up and moved to farm country. Mr. Douglas wanted the life, but his wife didn’t. Hijinks ensued, as Mr. Douglas proved a horrid farmer, despite his best efforts, due to the slightly odd happenings directed by the cast of town locals.
It is amazing how often I am hearing Americans, Canadians and Europeans declare, “Find me a farm in Ecuador!” The only difference is that not even the whacky cast of characters from Green Acres could possibly derail a farmer in Ecuador. With some of the richest and healthiest soil in the world, the running gag here is to note, “Snap a broom handle in half, stick it in the ground and soon you will be growing brooms.” Folks have been know to throw seeds out their kitchen window, onto “barely there” top soil, only to have plants flourish. The volcanic Ecuador soil takes fertility off the charts, making it ideal for a variety of crops. However, I am getting slightly ahead of myself.
I have been doing real estate business in Ecuador for 25 years. Probably the first 20 years of that were extremely heavily weighted towards commercial real estate – a little different domain. However, in the last 18 months, I have seen a dramatic change in the pattern of the residential real estate market, which has, to date, dominated the last 5 years of my real estate operations in Ecuador. Just 2 years ago, even less, I was drawing a mostly retired or planning on retirement crowd, looking for a nice, simple, secure condo or idyllic oceanfront single-family home. Nothing complicated, just a place in the sun and on the surf, where they could enjoy their much deserved retirement years.
Usher in the last 18-months and a slew of buyers, mostly younger couples under 40, or families with children in the same under 40 age bracket, have flooded the market in search of farmland. They aren’t so much looking for a place to kick back and relax. They want to work the land, be self-reliant and provide for their families, all in a more wholesome environment. Ecuador’s vaunted reputation as excellent “farm country” drove them to our doors.
The neo-farmers want reasonably priced land, with access to non-contaminated fresh-water supplies, where they can plant and harvest a variety of crops. Certainly, a variety of options are offered, by Ecuador’s fertile soil. As just a sliver of possibilities, Ecuador’s rich farmland is optimal for coffee, cacao (amongst the best in the world), bananas (needless to say, as one of nation’s premier exports), peppers, potatoes, papaya, watermelons, lime and, yes, even corn.
Yes, some of the new breed of Ecuadorean expat farmers wish to create an ongoing business enterprise by yielding cash crops for market, but others just want the option of Manor Farming. The British term, “Manor Farming” was in vogue when Manor houses created crops mostly to self-sustain the needs of the individual manor family and staff.
The desire is to harken back to the day of the private family farm, being rapidly put of business in locales such as the USA, by corporate farming. In Ecuador, the low cost of acquisition and carrying costs still makes Manor Farming a realistic option. Why this new found farming trend in Ecuador? The answers from clients are as varied as the individual. Some are survivalists, who believe that depleting natural resources, including water and food, will be an increasing plague upon the global population. Others simply want an affordable rural life, like their parents or grandparents, but no longer feel it is financially possible in the their native countries of origin. Some just want a healthier, more wholesome family lifestyle and, like Mr. Douglas, seek to get away from “big city life”…far away.
Of course, a frequent question is, “Just how good is the value of farmland in Ecuador?” Candidly, bit of a loaded question. Truth is that dozens of variables exist. They include geographic location, size of the farmland (larger parcels can generally be had at substantially lower $/acre or $/HA), proximity to central roadways, and the ready availability of existing or possible utility hook ups. Fresh water access, as always, is essential and its facility can greatly enhance the value of the land. As an example, I have a 100 HA farm for sale, with a rustic house on it, in a very central location, fresh water via readily accessible wells and a running hillside water stream, with electric coming full to site in 3 months, at a price of $250,000. That’s $2,500/HA or approximately $1,000/acre. Similar property in our portfolio, with less road access, no utilities on site, requiring full clearing and a less desirable location can be had for a deeply discounted fraction of that dollar amount. One farmland asset, in our client portfolio, requires the would-be buyer to be heli-dropped to site, but the parcel grows some ‘primo’ coffee, with a price tag that now becomes, a fraction of a fraction of the cost. Prices are all over the map, depending on your preferred specifics and land use. Boots on the ground definitely required.
So, whether you see an idyllic farm intended to feed your family and provide a sanctuary of family bliss, or whether you want to cash in on the global boom in cacao as an exporter, Ecuador has the right parcel of farmland for you. All you need to do is come discover Ecuador. You will be glad you did.