image of Peoples Company land broker with client

While Iowa-based Peoples Company offers land management, appraisals, land investments, brokerage and auction services, the foundation of everything is people.

“Over time, we’ve added divisions so our clients can get all of the expertise they need—whether they’re selling land, buying land, improving land or investing in land—in one place,” said Steve Bruere, president of Peoples Company. “To deliver this level of service, we’ve recruited top talent and created a collaborative corporate culture that includes 60 land professionals in 20 states, including our recent acquisition of firms in Walla Walla, Washington and Elmwood, Illinois. Everyday everyone on our team works to deliver results for our clients.”

View Peoples Company’s land listings on Lands of America

Although the Peoples Company got its start in the 1960s as the farm management division of Peoples Trust & Savings Bank, its strong growth and expansive reach is a fairly recent phenomenon.

“In 1972, Peoples was spun off into a mom-and-pop business with one broker and one farm manager,” Bruere said. “It remained that way until it sold in 2002.”

Bruere, an Iowa farm boy himself, came on board in 2003. Under his leadership, the company broadened its scope—and reach. Today, the team has boots on the ground from Florida to Washington and throughout the Farm Belt.

“Knowing that rural real estate is, at its core, a people business, we’ve built our team deliberately,” Bruere said.

The company actively recruits. 

“Our recruitment committee includes a representative from each of our business divisions,” Bruere said. “Everyone must sign off on every new team member.”

Many hires come from agriculture programs at Midwestern universities. All new recruits complete the company’s internship program.

“Everyone goes through the internship process to ensure they’re a good fit culturally—and then we find a place for them,” Bruere said.

Peoples Company Team

All team members specialize in one of the company’s four key business lines.

“Instead of asking our people to wear many hats, we find the best fit for them, whether it’s as a broker, land manager, investment strategist or appraiser, and then we put them to work in an environment that inspires and rewards collaboration,” Bruere said.

For instance, the company pays internal referral fees.

“Collaboration is a simple concept, but it’s not always easy to pull off in a business that attracts independent-minded people,” Bruere said. “We do collaboration very well—and 60 people working together for the good of our clients is a powerful force.”

Weidert FarmDoes teamwork and a shared vision make a difference? Yes indeed, according to the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) and USA Today. Together, they recognized the Peoples Company for its efforts in selling Weidert Farm, a ±6,000-acre contiguous farm in Washington’s fertile Walla Walla Valley. The campaign carried out by Peoples Company was judged the best out of 800 entries in the 2018 NAA Marketing Competition.

“Weidert Farm was an exceptional property and our expertise allowed us to highlight important land traits such as high-volume air drainage and a superior land profile that firms with less technical knowledge may have overlooked,” Bruere said. “While it’s an honor to be recognized for a single project, the biggest satisfaction comes from knowing that our approach to Weidert Farms represents our approach to every project.”

The Iowa advantage

The company’s long-term experience in Iowa, which ranks first in corn, soybean and pork production, serves it well across the country. 

“If we can understand and operate in the highly competitive landscape of agriculture in Iowa, then we can understand agriculture anywhere,” Bruere said.

Iowa provides a microcosm of rural land ownership across the nation. Currently, Iowa is home to 30 million acres of farmland valued at $224 billion, and about 55 percent of that land is owned by people who are 65 or older.

“In the next 20 years, the nation is poised to see the greatest exchange of land in its history,” Bruere said. “At Peoples, we want to appraise, market and sell as much of it as possible.”

Peoples’ business model, with four complementary divisions, puts it in a position to do just that.

“We strive to provide exceptional service within each division, so that Peoples Co. is top-of-mind for clients anytime they have an ag. real estate need,” Bruere said. “It’s not uncommon for our company to conduct an appraisal for someone, market that property, help them reinvest those earnings in another holding and then manage the new land for them—and when we do our jobs right, clients tell their friends.”

Market-driven innovation

In order to earn positive word-of-mouth, the Peoples’ team constantly gathers market information and responds innovatively to what they learn. The Peoples’ approach to land management shifted from a profit-driven model to a sustainability-focused model in response to market signals.

Peoples Company Auction“Traditionally, land management, particularly farm management, has been driven by the urge to maximize production and profit each season,” Bruere said. “These days, though, investors are taking a long-term view and are concerned about return on investment, which means that the land asset has to be improved in areas such as soil health and water quality. As a result, our land managers focus their efforts on long-term conservation practices that leave the land better—and potentially more valuable—than the investors found it.” 

Farm managers, who have the conservation knowledge necessary to improve ecological systems and thereby potentially increase ROI, demonstrate the benefit of having specialists on the team.

“Our farm managers are experts in the realm of sustainability,” Bruere said. “Because their attention is not diverted to other tasks, they can concentrate on knowing more about sustainability than anyone else in the business.”

In recent years, the company has noted a significant increase in investors who want to solely own and control their assets, so instead of advising these clients to invest in a land fund, Peoples provides direct access to land ownership. Regardless of whether investors are just beginning to diversify their portfolios with farmland or if they’re sophisticated, long-term players in the marketplace, Peoples positions its clients for success by aggressively tracking the land market, providing real-time information and discovering the deals that meet criteria to deliver a good return on the investment.

In Iowa, as an example, team members constantly monitor approximately 212 websites with farm-related land sales. They know what land is available and when it is scheduled for auction.

On April 12, 2018, at the time of this writing, there were 463 Iowa farms available. Of those, 114 met the team’s productivity requirements which include that a property be 85+ percent tillable. One team member does nothing but attend every land auction with properties of interest, which ranges from 10 to 20 each week.

Constant monitoring, accurate evaluation and boots-on-the-ground presence is important because the demand for fertile farmland outstrips the supply.

“There is more liquidity to invest in land than there is land to invest in,” Bruere said, noting that 114 productive farms averages out to only 1.15 farms per Iowa county that are available to all of the farmers and investors who are interested in acquiring farmland. “It’s a very competitive market.”

When interest is high and supplies are tight, it takes expert advice to buy the right property at the right price.

When interest is high and supplies are tight, it takes expert advice to buy the right property at the right price.

“In the modern world, money is a commodity, but any investment has to deliver value,” Bruere said. “At People’s, we know the market, we know how to identify value and determine whether or not it’s a good opportunity. At that point, our clients’ biggest decision is determining if the opportunity fits their personal goals.”

The power of networking

In 2007, the Peoples team, noting the growth in farm-oriented investors, created the Land Investment Expo. The daylong event, held in Des Moines in January each year, is a one-of-a-kind forum designed to provide potential investors with industry knowledge and exceptional networking opportunities.

“There are other real estate conferences, but none focused on the farmland side,” Bruere said. 

Heavy-hitting keynoters such as T. Boone Pickens, Ben Stein, The Shark Tank’s Kevin O’ Leary and Donald Trump attract attendees from across the nation. The first year 200 people attended. In 2017, the conference maxed out the current facility’s capacity of 700; the growing forum will be relocated for 2018 to accommodate a larger crowd.

Expo Crowd

“The Land Investment Expo put farmland investment—and Peoples—on a national stage,” Bruere said. “Last year, 400 of the attendees were from out of state, which speaks to the importance of the event because Iowa in January isn’t a vacation spot.”

Attendees represent a cross-section of the farmland industry.

“It’s not just agriculture or investment, so an institutional investor may be sitting at the same table as a soybean farmer,” Bruere said. “The event allows us to develop relationships with institutional investors and family offices as well as farmers.” 

In addition to the Land Investment Expo, representatives of Peoples attend Agri-Investor in Chicago and Global Ag in New where they actively foster investment-oriented relationships.

View Peoples Company’s land listings on Lands of America

“There is a big appetite for farmland investments that allow owners to have direct control of the asset, so it is an industry growth area,” Bruere said. “Peoples is uniquely positioned to provide turnkey, boots-on-the-ground due diligence in 19 states and then provide follow-up land management services as well as marketing and appraisal when the time is right.”

Bruere continued, “Our team possesses a scope and scale of knowledge that sets us apart.”

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  • Lorie A. Woodward has worked as a writer and public relations practitioner exploring the intersection of agriculture, natural resources and public policy for almost 30 years. Her career, which has included stints in the public and private sector, has taken her across the country and around the world, where she has been enthralled by the people of the land and their stories. She is the president of Woodward Communications and co-owner of The Round Top Register, a regional magazine focused on life in the rolling bluebonnet hills of central Texas where country meets city. Woodward was reared on a ranch near Lexington, Texas, but now makes her home in San Angelo with her two children, Kate and Will.

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