Don't you hate arriving late to the party? You may have missed out on the recent real estate boom-turned-bust, but you're not too late to profit from property. It just might not be the kind of property you'd expect.

In addition to houses and condominiums, real estate involves plain old land -- and right now, American farmland is growing in value at a decent clip. A CNNMoney.com article noted that in late 2010, land in the Corn Belt (think Iowa and surrounding states) increased its value by 15% to 20% each year.

Not so fast…
That's the good news. But before you reach for that pair of overalls, realize that all that past appreciation makes farmland far less of a bargain right now. Besides, if you don't live near any farmland, or you don't want lots of money tied up in land -- a far less liquid asset than, say, stocks or CDs -- buying farmland isn't the answer to your prayers.

In fact, investing in real estate directly is not many investors' best choice. For one thing, home values have historically grown at a long-term annual average rate of roughly 5%, only a few percentage points more than inflation, and they're expected to grow at about that rate in coming years as well. That return represents far less than the stock market has earned over the long haul. While there are certainly times and places where housing can make you a lot of money, it's far from a sure thing.

Demand rising
Still, you might be able to ride the coattails of this little boom in farmland values. It's tied to increased demand, partly for corn ethanol production, and partly because our nation and the world simply have more mouths to feed. As middle classes expand globally, more people are eating more meat -- and livestock needs to eat a lot more grain than people do.

Meanwhile, food prices have been growing rapidly in recent years, with fatter profit margins attracting more interest in farming. Some land owners are getting further value from their property by selling its use for wind turbines.

Given all that, you might want to invest in stocks that are also tied to agricultural growth. Legendary global investor Jim Rogers has said, "If I'm right, agriculture is going to be one of the greatest industries in the next 20 years and longer . . . [it] will become more profitable than it has ever been."

Agricultural options
To invest in agriculture, you have plenty of choices. Deere (NYSE: DE) makes agricultural machinery and equipment. Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM) is one of the biggest producers of corn, oilseeds, wheat and cocoa.

You can also look at companies that facilitate higher crop production. Monsanto (NYSE: MON) and Syngenta (NYSE: SYT) develop seeds with the aim of boosting yields, while PotashCorp (NYSE: POT) and Mosaic (NYSE: MOS) specialize in the fertilizers crops crave.

If you're not comfortable choosing agricultural investments on your own, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) focusing on agriculture can do so for you. Consider the PowerShares DB Agriculture Fund (NYSE: DBA), which invests in agricultural commodities, or the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (MOO), which holds several dozen stocks related to agriculture.

The world has already risen to 6.9 billion people, and it's expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050. With all those hungry folks to feed, agriculture looks more than ever like a very promising investment

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Syngenta is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a synthetic long position on Monsanto. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.  The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.