15 Minutes With… Joelle Faulkner, President & CEO of Area One Farms
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (May 17, 2022)
Many of the best solutions are realized by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Area One Farms co-founder Joelle Faulkner can relate. Her experience in trying to secure funding for her family’s farm expansion without giving away control to banks and lending partners was the brainchild for this Toronto, Canada-based private equity firm, which bridges the gap between equity and agriculture from the point of view of a farmer herself.
To create this farm-centric equity model, which facilitates joint venture partnerships with farming operations, Faulkner raised four funds and invested $450 million in the acquisition and improvement of more than 160,000 acres of land in Canada. The most recent fund raise, at a value of $310 million, was in February of this year.
For Faulkner, who launched the company in 2011, the business has taken on a broader meaning, bringing her closer to understanding more about farmers, learning more about what they want to grow, what the challenges are on the farm, and what the best options are for their land. This is because they partner with the buying farmer, rather than the seller.
This innovative financing model has gotten Faulkner noticed: she made the 2020 list of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40; was recognized as one of the Top 100 for EY’s Entrepreneurial Women’s Class of 2018, which is an annual competition and executive leadership program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale; and was named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader in 2020.
We sat with Faulkner for a brief Q&A.
1). You launched the business in 2011. Please explain the genesis behind the creation of Area One Farms.
My brother was interested in acquiring land that was farther from our farm than we usually consider, but it was well-priced well, relative to its productivity. I helped him look at that. Once I started looking at it, it got me to thinking about how people invest in land and I became interested in whether there was a way that you could make something where farmers were partners instead of tenants. I thought from a long-term social perspective, it would be much more valuable to the farmer economically if they owned the asset. I thought this was key to them doing well economically along the way.
2). How is your innovative investment model different, particularly in how it benefits farmers?
We partner with the farmer. If they want to expand, rather than coming to me and having me buy the land and lease it to them, they put in money, and we put in money, and we buy the land together, usually buying out retiring neighbors. So if the farmland value goes up, the farmer makes money because they're an owner. In addition to the part they own, they earn extra appreciation that we pay them as an incentive, and have the goal of purchasing more of the land periodically, like every five or 10 years. Whereas if they were renting, they’d likely just pay higher and higher rents each year with no payback for them.
The goal is that they eventually buy us out so that they are the full owners of the property.
3). What’s next for Area One Farms?
For now, it will be more of the same. We're expanding and working with additional farmers in Canada. We have 12 employees who now work with 25 partners/farms, who are mostly growing wheat, canola, oats, and some peas, and one cattle ranch.
We also do a ton of land improvement to make the land more productive and profitable, mostly through infrastructure development, such as turning pasture into cropland, adding irrigation, or putting up bins.
4). Turning the conversation a bit now, you are on the list of Canada’s Most Powerful Women, one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, and in the top 100 on EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women. What makes you most proud about these accolades?
Mostly, I'm proud that our business model is working and thriving, and providing a new way for farmers to own and operate their farms. The Most Powerful Women recognition was while I was in school so that was more around academic work, which I did well at. The Top 40 Under 40, and the EY award were both relative to Area One Farms as far as its business success.
[NOTE: For Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, Faulkner was recognized for “What she’s doing uniquely to help finance transitions and expansions and how she supported farmers through the pandemic to help keep grocery stores open and food on the table is an example of the innovative spirit of Top 40 honorees.” For EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, Faulkner was identified as one of a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale and secure funding.]
5). In a generally male-dominated sector – agriculture – how have you found your niche and footing and success?
That generally worked out for me – it is a male-dominated industry, but it hasn't really been a problem for me. With a lot of our farms, both husband and wife are primary partners with decision-making power, so in a lot of cases, I'm dealing with both genders. In some cases, I'm dealing entirely with one. I make it super clear at the beginning that they're going to be dealing with me because I run the business, and that I'm a woman.
I will add that I think ag is a really great place for women. We meet a lot of grain buyers who are women, and plenty of agronomists who are women. So both on farm and then in what I do – as far as working with farmers to structure partnerships, as well as raise funding – are great matches for a woman’s skillset. Women are very good at facilitating win-win scenarios and that works well in this sector and business in general. It’s certainly worked out well for me.
ABOUT JOELLE FAULKNER
Joelle Faulkner is president and CEO of Area One Farms, an alternative asset management firm that she co-founded in 2011. At Area One, she created a farmer-centric private equity model to simultaneously help scale Canadian family farms and deliver premium investor returns. Faulkner has raised three funds and invested $200 million in the acquisition and improvement of over 110,000 acres. Prior to establishing Area One Farms, Faulkner worked at Bain & Co., Morgan Stanley, Onex, and Stanford University. She sits on the board at Deveron Corp., an ag data company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Faulkner holds degrees in engineering and business from Western, law from Oxford, and a master of laws and certificate in biodesign from Stanford University. She is a Rhodes Scholar, Fulbright Scholar, a member of the New York Bar Association, on the list of Canada’s Most Powerful Women, in the Top 100 for EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.
# # #
- Michelle Pelletier Marshall is contributing editor and author for HighQuest Partners’ GAI News and Unconventional Ag, and managing editor for its WIA Today blog. Additionally, she is the company’s Senior PR/Media Manager. She can be reached at email@example.com.