Maintaining these essential services “helps bring costs down to the farmers,” Mr. Duryea said. “That has to help mitigate the price increases for crops.”
Mr. Duryea of the Ospraie fund dismissed the idea that financial investors, with obligations to suppliers and customers of their elevators and fertilizer services, would put their thumb on the supply-demand scale by holding back inventory to move prices artificially.
“It is not in our best interests for anyone to be negatively affected by what we do,” he said.
Perhaps the most ambitious plans are those of Susan Payne, founder and chief executive of Emergent Asset Management, based near London.
Emergent is raising $450 million to $750 million to invest in farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, where it plans to consolidate small plots into more productive holdings and introduce better equipment. Emergent also plans to provide clinics and schools for local labor.
One crop and a source of fuel for farming operations will be jatropha, an oil-seed plant useful for biofuels that is grown in sandy soil unsuitable for food production, Ms. Payne said.
“We are getting strong response from institutional investors — pensions, insurance companies, endowments, some sovereign wealth funds,” she said.
The fund chose Africa because “land values are very, very inexpensive, compared to other agriculture-based economies,” she said. “Its microclimates are enticing, allowing a range of different crops. There’s accessible labor. And there’s good logistics — wide open roads, good truck transport, sea transport.”
The Emergent fund is one of a growing roster of farmland investment funds based in Britain.
Last October, the London branch of BlackRock introduced the BlackRock Agriculture Fund, aiming to raise $200 million to invest in fertilizer production, timberland and biofuels. The fund currently stands at more than $450 million.
Braemar Group, near Manchester, is investing exclusively in Britain. “Britain is a nice, stable northwestern European economy with the same climate and quality of soil as northwestern Europe,” said Marc Duschenes, Braemar’s chief executive. “But our land is at a 50 percent discount to Ireland and Denmark. We just haven’t caught up yet.“
Europe, like the United States, is facing mandated increases in biofuel production, he said, and cropland near new ethanol facilities in the northeast of England will be the first source of supply. “No one is going to put a ton of grain on a boat in Latin America and ship it to the northeast of England to turn it into bioethanol,” he said.
For Gary R. Blumenthal, chief executive of World Perspectives, an agriculture consulting firm in Washington, the new investments by big financial players, if sustained, could be just what global agriculture needs — “where you can bring small, fragmented pieces together to boost the production side of agriculture.”
He added: “Investment funds are seeing that this consolidation brings value to them. But I’m saying this brings value to everyone.”