WITH HEATHER DAVIS, SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR, HEAD OF GLOBAL PRIVATE MARKETS
Anticipating the growing economic momentum of sustainable food production, TIAA has established a unique portfolio of valuable, strategic agricultural assets in some of the world’s most productive areas. The organization has acquired more than 400 farms located across the U.S., Australia, Brazil, and Eastern Europe.
TIAA’s agricultural portfolio is not only comprehensive, but also market-targeted — with growth crops that range from corn to soybeans, sugar to apples, cranberries to wine grapes, and pistachios to almonds. In fact, the organization is now one of the largest growers of almonds in the world.
With the help of tenant farmers, TIAA employees manage all the domestic and international farms in the permanent crop portfolio. Experienced commercial farmers work side-by-side with portfolio and investment professionals from the organization, on the ground at the farm sites. TIAA’s acquisition of a controlling interest in Westchester Group, Inc., one of the nation’s premier agricultural asset managers, has brought a further dimension to the organization’s in-house expertise. Given TIAA’s significant capabilities in commercial real estate, this insight has been leveraged across the agricultural portfolio, enabling the implementation of best-practice real estate strategies and the deployment of the organization’s real estate appraisers, engineers, and attorneys into the agriculture sector.
TIAA established a footprint in agricultural investing by purchasing a $300 million portfolio of properties from the State Teachers of Illinois. That selection of properties included farms of grain, soybeans, and other permanent crops.
“Our first agriculture purchase was a $300 million portfolio of grain and soybean farms,” explained Heather Davis, Senior Managing Director, Head of Global Private Markets.
After acquiring domestically, TIAA expanded internationally to Brazil, Australia, and Eastern Europe. The firm invested in properties in Brazil, purchased multiple large tracts of farmland in Australia, and acquired some smaller farms in Eastern Europe.
In the state of Washington, TIAA owns apple orchards and vineyards on a property called Badger Mountain. A critical element of apple production is the availability of a reliable workforce.
Senior Managing Director, Head of Global Private Markets, Heather Davis, suggested an approach that has proven both socially beneficial and notably efficient. Being the mother of an autistic child and knowing the vast, often untapped abilities of a uniquely capable group of people, Heather suggested TIAA employ autistic and disabled individuals to support the apple harvest during picking season at the orchards. TIAA engaged with the local community as an organization and worked to identify just such a team willing to work on the farm. This program, now called Fruits of Employment, provided significant benefit to the community and created an opportunity for some very special people to work outdoors with a regular schedule — people who might have not been given the chance otherwise. For TIAA, this strategy delivered cost efficiencies because of the dependability and low attrition rate of this unique workforce.
“We reached out to the local community and identified a group of people—not just autistic—that could help us on our farms” added Davis.
In fact, because this approach has been so successful, a similar Fruits of Employment program is being established in Santa Barbara County, California, at White Hills Vineyard, a property being renovated to produce other permanent crops. Like the farm in Washington, the vineyard will have an alternate workforce dedicated to raising and harvesting the crops.
TIAA’s Agriculture investments are just one of many investments of TIAA’s General Account, an account solely owned by TIAA that is not available to individual investors and whose performance is not directly allocated to any specific contract or obligation. TIAA’s General Account invests in a broad range of diversified investments to support TIAA’s contractual guarantees and business operations.
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