Sean Edler is a key member of the AgIS Capital asset management team – overseeing farm operations in Washington and Northern California. He has more than 20 years of farm management experience with both permanent and row croplands. Sean holds a BS in General Agriculture from Oregon State University and is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
I grew up in Washington State. My grandparents settled there in the early 1950’s because of the Bureau of Reclamation Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, which enabled them to buy an 80-acre farm with water rights. My grandparents and uncles farmed, and I would spend my free time working with them. My early farming experiences included moving irrigation lines and baling and raking hay. My passion for farming was sparked at an early age. There is nothing more rewarding than growing a successful crop, especially one that exceeds your expectations. As someone who is highly results driven, agriculture is a great fit for me because farming is all about continuous improvement and tangible success that can be measured at harvest time.
Growing up around farming led me to study agriculture at Oregon State. I have experience with both organic and conventional crops and over my 25-year career I have worked in many of the core agricultural regions of the United States – including the Southeast, Mississippi Delta, Mountain West, California, and Pacific Northwest.
Going forward, I expect the asset class to continue playing a niche role in institutional investors’ portfolios. This role seems to be increasing and based on the characteristics of the asset class, I believe investors will continue valuing the benefits that the asset class uniquely provides.
There is an ebb and flow to my typical day based on what is occurring on the farm properties I manage for our investors. I’m often on the phone or my computer addressing asset management issues. I spend a lot of my time developing and monitoring property budgets, conducting client tours, managing staff and contract workers and directing commodity marketing activities. I am also involved in our acquisition sourcing and due diligence activities, which I enjoy. I see a big part of my job as ensuring that we have “boots on the ground” with our clients’ assets because the types of farm properties we manage for them need to be directly and actively managed. In fact, we think that is the key to creating long‐term value.
Having a local presence on the farms creates a conduit for updates and industry and market insight that otherwise would be challenging to obtain. For instance, I regularly invest time and effort cultivating relationships with key industry leaders throughout the Pacific Northwest so we can collect useful perspectives and intelligence.
Row vs. Permanent Crops
I have worked with both row and permanent and I have enjoyed my involvement with both because they have unique characteristics. Row crops have a short life cycle and having the ability to reset their production and performance annually is rewarding because you can see the results of your work very quickly. With permanent crops, like wine grapes, apples and tree nuts, taking a longer-term, strategic orientation is necessary. You have to have an informed perspective on future supply and demand dynamics in commodity markets and you have to build strategic relationships with reliable buyers of your products. Unlike with annual crops, we don’t have the latitude to easily reset our variety and crop mixes with permanent crops because once the vines and trees are in the ground you have to focus on both their long‐term productivity and capturing as much value as possible by how you participate in the supply chain.
Farming in the Pacific Northwest
The combination of rich fertile volcanic soils, long summer days, diverse micro-climates and ample irrigation and access to water makes farming in the Pacific Northwest interesting because we can grow a diverse mix of crops. The productivity of agriculture in the region often allows farmers to produce record per‐acre yields for commodities like apples, potatoes and wheat. Livestock farming and dairy operations also are important aspects of the agricultural economy here. The other major advantage we have in the Pacific Northwest is our access to global markets. We have excellent deep water ports at Tacoma, Washington and Portland, Oregon and this provides great access to export trade opportunities.
The Future of Agriculture
My vision of our investment sector is that we will continue to maximize and surpass current yields so we can supply the world’s growing population with the food it needs. That’s why farmers like me get up every day and go to work. There are challenges though… The cost and scarcity of farm labor is something every farmer thinks about. Likewise, we need to be constantly re‐assessing and innovating to increase our utilization of technology – including things like artificial intelligence, autonomous‐self‐operating vehicles and robotics. These technologies will make the future of agriculture look very different. I also believe the size of farming operations will continue to evolve. Large farms will become even larger and more productive, efficient and less costly to operate. I also believe small niche growers will continue to flourish as they focus on high-value crops. Unfortunately, I think mid‐ size growers will struggle. Over time there will be fewer of them because it will become increasingly difficult for them to compete against the efficiencies of larger farms. In addition, they won’t be able to achieve the kinds of profit margins that the smaller, niche farmers will be able to generate.
Working at AgIS Capital
The thing I like most about my work here at AgIS is that I think we are entrepreneurial, innovative and on the leading edge. We work with many “Best in Class” farm management groups and we focus on creating and capturing value by utilizing “Best Practices.” Combining these in a single business approach for the benefit of our clients is appealing and rewarding. It makes for a stimulating work environment.
I love spending time outdoors with my family – whether it is camping or taking my daughters fishing. I am a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and I was deployed during both the Desert Shield and Desert Storm conflicts. I earned the rank of staff sergeant while serving as a crewmember on an Abrams M1 A1 battle tank and I maintain a close relationship with the military by volunteering time with organizations like the Marine Corps League and the Marine Corps Tankers Association.