EcoCrops International offers investment plots for sale in Estonian forestry at €8,200 for a 1 acre plot. The investment case is that after 3-5 years the plots will be harvested and the timber converted into wood pellets for biofuel.
EcoCrops International projects that after the plots are sold, investors will receive €11,280 from the sale of the pellets and €5,000 for the land. A 5% fee will be deducted, leaving the investor with €15,466. This is described as a 17.19%pa return, which suggests a 4 year investment timeframe. Elsewhere the literature states that EcoCrops targets a 3-5 year period before harvesting takes place.
These are however projections; according to the literature, a “conservative view” has been taken as to the valuation of the land on sale, while the price of the pellets is based on current prices.
Who are EcoCrops International?
No information is provided on the EcoCrops website as to who owns or controls the business.
The company was incorporated in Estonia in 2018. According to incorporation documents, EcoCrops International is wholly owned by its founder, Mark Lewis Rayner (who is not listed under the “Meet The Team” section of the website). Rayner was previously director of a UK company, Greenwood Marketing Limited, which was dissolved shortly after its incorporation without ever filing accounts.
Update 8.2.18: Research by readers confirms that Mark Rayner was previously involved in the collapsed forestry investment GWD Forestry. Rayner describes his role in GWD Forestry as “sales” on his LinkedIn bio; he was also director of the aforementioned UK-registered company, Greenwood Marketing. Greenwood was an alternative brand name used by GWD. GWD Forestry promised returns of up to 15% per year, and collapsed in 2015.
How safe is the investment?
These are unregulated investments and investors risk losing up to 100% of their money if the timber fails to deliver a return and a buyer cannot be found for your plot.
This is a “landbanking” investment where the owner of a property divides it into smaller units and sells these units to investors. The owner of the scheme remains in control of the forestry itself and the investors are depending on the owner to deliver their returns.
The price of €8,200 is set by EcoCrops International. Investors should ensure they obtain their own independent professional valuation of the plot they intend to buy before handing over money. Just as if you were buying a house, you would hire your own valuer and not simply accept the value of the estate agent (who works for the seller).
The incentives for the scheme owner are heavily front-loaded; over the life of this investment, for every acre sold EcoCrops receives €8,200 upfront and €564 when the investment is sold. Investors therefore need to be very confident that the owner will continue to act in their best interests even though it has already had 93.5% of the money it expects to make over the course of the investment.
The literature puts little emphasis on the fact that the returns are projections. The claim that the investment will “turn €8,200 into €15,466” and deliver returns of 17.19%pa depends entirely on how many wood pellets can be harvested and what they can be sold for at that time, as well as what the land can be sold for.
There is virtually no secondary market for individual plots in a wider forestry investment, and investors will likely be relying on EcoCrops International selling the plots to a third party to exit their investment.
The worst case scenario is that EcoCrops International fails to generate any return from the plots, and cannot find a buyer for investors’ plots, in which case investors will lose up to 100% of their money.
This scenario has occurred with past forestry investments such as GWD Forestry, where investors have received no returns and cannot sell their plots. This means they are effectively worthless. It has also occurred with non-forestry landbanking investments, where the price at which the investors bought their parcels of land bore no relation to their true value.
We are not in any sense implying the same will happen to EcoCrops International, which is a different company entirely; only illustrating the risk that is inherent in any forestry or landbanking investment, and the importance of investors using their own professional valuer and solicitor – just as they would with any other land purchase.
Representatives of the investment claim that EcoCrops International “continues to outperform all other alternative investment options.” Given that EcoCrops International did not exist before 2018 and no-one has yet been invested long enough to realise a return, this is a remarkably premature statement. As EcoCrops International has no past performance record whatsoever, its claim to outperform alternative investments is meaningless.
EcoCrops International is currently offering financial promotions to UK investors via Facebook ads. There is however no indication that EcoCrops International is authorised to issue financial promotions in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority; a search on the FCA’s register for EcoCrops produced no results. A search on the Estonian regulator’s website also provided no results.
Estonia is notorious for its limited financial regulation, and investors should be aware that it is extremely unlikely there will be any regulatory intervention should anything go wrong.
Should I invest in EcoCrops International?
This blog does not give financial advice. The following are statements of publicly available facts or widely accepted investment principles, not a personalised recommendation. Investors should consult a regulated independent financial adviser if they are in any doubt.
As with any unregulated investment, this investment is only suitable for sophisticated and/or high net worth investors who have a substantial existing portfolio and are prepared to risk 100% loss of their money.
Any investment projecting returns of 17% per annum should be considered extremely high risk. As an individual security with a risk of total and permanent loss, EcoCrops International’s forestry plots are higher risk than a mainstream stockmarket fund.
Before investing investors should ask themselves:
- How would I cope if EcoCrops International was unable to find a buyer in the 3-5 year projected timeframe, and my money was locked into the investment indefinitely?
- How would I feel if no returns were realised from the forestry plots, there was no secondary market for my plot and I lost up to 100% of my money?
- Do I have a sufficiently large and well-diversified portfolio that the loss of 100% of my investment in EcoCrops International would not damage me financially?
If you are looking for a “safe and secure” investment, you should not invest in unregulated investments with a risk of 100% capital loss.