Piercing the Corporate Veil: Exploring Farmland Financialization in McDonough and Fulton Counties, Illinois

Authors: John Canfield*, Auburn University, Loka Ashwood, Auburn University, Madeleine Fairbairn, University of California: Santa Cruz, Kathryn DeMaster, University of California: Berkeley, Anand Kumar, University of California: Berkeley
Topics: Rural Geography, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: land grab, financialization, corporations
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Cleveland 2, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the wake of the food crisis of 2007-2008, the “financialization of farmland” (Fairbairn 2014) saw large-scale investors and absentee landowners looking to U.S. farmland as a promising investment. Land emerged as a popular commodity for investment among private equity funds, hedge funds, pension funds, and other institutional investors. Agricultural liberalization, thus, took on yet another layer of financial complexity, a situation that has yet to be fully understood. The literature on the “global land grab” (Borras 2010) does not really grapple with how investment happens, particularly when it comes to farmland in the United States and North America more broadly. In many cases, there is a general lack of transparency of US land ownership data.

This paper explores the financial process of the land grab in the United States by analyzing data from McDonough and Fulton Counties, Illinois, two highly productive agricultural counties. Using the database Nexis public records, we meticulously analyzed the tax parcel data by looking at the corporate structure, the ultimate location of ownership, and the financial structures. From these data, we attempt to distinguish the difference between absentee corporate investors, absentee individual owners (familial or institutional), and local individuals who may have incorporated their land for financial purposes. Furthermore, we show how farmland transactional data of these counties illuminates the flow of land and capital to the absentee corporate investors. Ultimately, this paper will present a new methodology of looking at how farmland financialization occurs in the United States.

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