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Sketch: secret of riches? 'Never invest in a man'

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It's difficult digging up hot tips for investing in farming.

But at least Agrimoney.com can pass on two suggestions for where not to put your money.

The first is Plant Impact. Who says? The company's chief executive, Pete Blezard, who advised delegates at the annual Agriculture Outlook shindig in London: "Do not invest in Plant Impact" – at least if you want to make a quick buck.

Developing the agrichemicals sector's answer to valium, in terms of de-stressing crops, is a 10-year story of which we are only on chapter seven, he said, laying into the shortcomings of quarterly reporting.

'Never invest in a man'

The second tip is, well, over to you, Mariann Fischer Boel: "Never invest in a man. He is lazy and he is drinking," Europe's former agriculture commissioner told the conference.

If this makes any Mr Fischer Boel sound some kind of sauted couch potato, who would fall foul of a Brussels dictat on genetic wellbeing, remember that Ms FB was quoting another woman's advice. It came from a Tanzanian minister.

Even so, it was a brave statement before some 200, mainly male, delegates diligent and self disciplined to a brogue in their pursuit of the pot of gold at the end of agricultural rainbow, whether it finishes in Tanzania or Tazmania.

Africa calling

Indeed, Africa was quite a point of conversation. As to whether it was a breadbasket, or just a basket case.

David Murrin made quite a case for former, calling on reinforcements from the Roman army and Napoleon (don't ask. It was about the rise and fall of empires) and President Barrack Obama (his ancestry) to make the case for Africa as the lucrative, commodity-rich filling in the middle of a China-US sandwich.

Delicious? Not to Rik Plomp, the senior investment manager at the Netherlands' PGGM Investments, who was preferred more tried and trusted areas. (But not the US, thanks to a nasty capital gains tax, which is not a big thing in Holland.)

B for Brazil

And he wasn't the only one to go light on the Dark Continent.

If the conference had something of an ABC theme, with Africa as the A, it was the B, Brazil, which was written in the boldest type. Everywhere.

The myriad of presentations can be summed up so: you can grow anything in Brazil, buy anywhere, and land can be bought for the price of a few mojitos.

That is, if you have the right contacts. Mister. Psst. You know, the credit crunch was bad news for many companies with big debts. To get the banks off their backs, they need to sell land.

"But they do not tell anyone. They do not want to lose their credibility," confided Renato Cassim Cavalini, the chief executive of so-called "investment partner" Brookfield Brazil Agri.

"But there are ways to know."

'Real alpha'

What, however, if you already have the land? A Nestle delegate, who had plenty of transatlantic air miles under his belt, wanted to know a few secrets, but that was about how to get decent staff, and margins.

And Matthew Gilpin, chief executive of Agrotrust, which promises "real assets, real alpha", put his cabeça over the parapet by doubting Brazil's credentials in politics and land title.

He wouldn't buy farms there. Nor in the US for that matter. (Although for price reasons rather than capital gains tax. Brits are used to paying that).

This male's answer to alpha was the conference's C, central and eastern Europe, where land is cheap and, hurrah, the rule of European Union justice holds sway.

Indeed, making a mint there might have seemed child's play for those who didn't hear Erik Jantzen, the chief executive of Jantzen Development, mention later that Romanian land was owned by 2m people who owned an average of two hectares each, sometimes with multiple ownership of the same field, "scattered" plots, "hard to work with the structure", court cases, etc.

And he was trying to talk the place up.

Kick off

So maybe we should try another C. Cup perhaps. World Cup, which provided a test of that Tanzanian investment advice just a few hours after Ms Fischer Boel uttered it.

Could the delegates, English ones at least, resist the temptation to see its national team play what would be their last match in the tournament if they did not win?

The allotted hour arrived. And Karl Murr, managing director agro at reinsurer Munich Re, took the stand to what was a pretty packed house.

He expressed surprise. "I believed that, like Tanzanian men, people would be sitting in front of the television and drinking alcohol," he said.

Alternative attractions

Perhaps it was this reminder. Or maybe it was a collective realisation that deals, learning Portuguese, or swotting up on Romanian land laws, ranked ahead of a talk on weather patterns.

But in dribs and drabs, the room emptied as if, well, as if there was a comfortable bar upstairs with a big screen and nibbles.

Did they miss anything? Very possibly.

But Jermaine Defoe's goal, wasn't that a tonic. As in the stuff that complements a tot of gin.

By Agrimoney.com

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