Investment firm Gladstone Land bought four farms this year in California, but the bulk of its acquisitions lie ahead, said chief executive officer David Gladstone.

Some are expected to be in Florida, where the company is exploring properties in the Plant City area to purchase and then lease to growers.

The McLean, Va.-based company owns six farms totaling 1,228 acres in Oxnard and Watsonville, Calif.

“We would like to buy another 10,000-12,000 acres,” said Gladstone, who expects to reach that goal within three to five years. “We’re looking for vegetable and strawberry ground in California and Florida.” Current tenants grow strawberries, raspberries, lettuce, cabbage and radicchio.

The effort could get a lift from family-owned farms motivated to sell by the end of 2012 to avoid a rise in capital gains taxes from 15% to 28% or more, Gladstone said.

The company manages $1 billion in a variety of assets. Dole Berry became its first grower tenant in 2004 when it bought Coastal Berry Co. from Gladstone. Gladstone Land retained core properties and leases them to Dole.

“Dole really doesn’t want to own that land,” Gladstone said. “They’re in growing, production and selling, not the real estate business.”

Gladstone bought Coastal Berry from Monsanto in 1997 and ran it with a group of about 90 former Monsanto employees. The sale to Dole marked his transition into financial management.

“Last year we decided we wanted to build that part of the business up so we started to buy more land,” Gladstone said. “It’s an investment play. Warren Buffett said he’d rather own all the farmland in the U.S. than all the gold in the world.”

Gladstone said the value of farmland will only go up.

“They’re not making that kind of land anymore,” he said. “It’s getting used up at a fairly rapid pace with urban and suburban uses. Over time there’s an appreciation in value.”

Gladstone Land plans to keep its properties in farming. It collects lease money and pays it out to shareholders as dividends. That fund is privately owned; the company also has some publicly traded funds.

“We lease it out to tenants on a triple net basis on a three- to five-year term,” Gladstone said. “That’s relatively common in today’s marketplace, but there are not that many investment-oriented people buying it for long-term dividend returns.”

Under the leases, tenants pay all property-related costs, such as maintenance, utilities, property taxes and insurance.

Gladstone Land plans to eventually look beyond California and Florida for new acquisitions. But it will stick to vegetables and berries because that’s where its experience lies, Gladstone said. Tenants could be corporations, farming groups or even cooperatives.

“We’re not very good at leasing to one family farmer,” Gladstone said.

Family-owned farms seem likely to continue to hit the market.

“We’re seeing that happen at a much faster pace than we thought,” he said. “In a multigenerational family, you might have 12 owners of a property and the younger members aren’t interested in farming so there’s an interest in liquidity,” said Bill Frisbie, a principal in Gladstone Land.