By Wendy Culverwell / Tri-City Herald
KENNEWICK — In a deal that trumpets the soaring value of Mid-Columbia farmland, a Louisiana investor just finished one of the largest real estate transactions in recent memory.
A limited liability company associated with Angelina Agriculture Co. of Monterey, Louisiana, paid nearly $171 million for a 14,500-acre swath in southwest Benton County.
The company bought land in the 100 Circles area of the Horse Heaven Hills, near the Benton-Yakima county border. The terms represent a sizable payday for seller John Hancock Life Insurance Co.
The Boston-based insurance company paid $75 million for the mix of irrigated and non-irrigated land in 2010.
Interest is big for high-value farmland on the Columbia-Snake system, said Darryl Olsen, executive director of the Columbia Snake Irrigators Association.
Investors and lenders want agricultural land for long-term investments, Olsen said.
They like what they see in the Mid-Columbia — private land with confirmed water rights, a vast food processing network and infrastructure to move products to international markets by road, river and rail.
“There is a lot more confidence in irrigated ag on the main stem of the Columbia-Snake system than there is anywhere else,” Olsen said. “It’s a very unique model for integrated agriculture.”
A tax statement filed with the deal shows the sale closed Aug. 28, 2018. The deal brought in $2.1 million in excise taxes for the state, $427,000 for local government and a $5 “state technology” fee.
The change in ownership has not yet recorded in the county’s online property information system.
An attorney for the new owner confirmed the sale to the Herald and said the new owners won’t change the current use.
The land is used to grow potatoes in rotation with sweet corn and wheat.
Lamb Weston, the frozen french fry giant with processing plants in Richland and Hermiston, is one buyer of the land’s harvest.
Property records show John Hancock’s holdings include almost 10,500 acres of irrigated farmland, 3,900 acres of rangeland and about 140 acres of other land, including home sites and pasture.
Assuming the insurance company sold all its holdings, the price averages $11,800 per acre, which is consistent with the mix of irrigated and dry land, said Don Moody, a land broker with CBRE, a commercial real estate brokerage.
Mid-Columbia farmland commands $10,000 to $15,000 an acre, depending on the condition, improvements and the availability and source of water.
High-value farmland with water rights can command up to $17,000 an acre, Olsen said.
Moody confirmed investors are interested in agricultural land.
“If you have a good site and you have water, there is a real appetite for good farmland right now,” he said, adding that institutional investors tend to try to keep their deals quiet. Even so, the 100 Circles price is attention-worthy.
“$171 million deals are rare anywhere until you get to downtown Seattle or San Francisco or Los Angeles,” he said.
The excise tax document identifies the buyer as 100C LLC, which incorporated in Delaware in April. Investors often create LLCs to own their real estate investments.
100C shares a Monterey, La, post office box with Angelina Farm Partnership, a.k.a. Angelina Agriculture Company.
A public records search shows Angelina has a Kirkland, Wash, postal address in connection with land it owns in Louisiana. There is no clear business interest in Washington.
The Angelina website redirects visitors to Oak River Farms, a property management firm focused on agricultural land.
R. Clay Powell, Oak River’s chief counsel, confirmed it will manage the property on behalf of the buyer and that the use will not change.