In the last year, Prudential Financial Inc. has plowed money into lemons and avocados in Ventura County, almonds and mandarins in the Central Valley and strawberries in Santa Cruz County.

The insurance giant is just one of many players, including highly specialized investors and large pension funds, that have snapped up California farmland recently.

The buying spree has helped push farm and ranch land values to record highs, raising questions about how long the boom might last and what effect it might have on the state's important agricultural sector.

The average cost of an acre of farm real estate in California rose to $7,200 this year, roughly $300 above last year's record, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some of the highest-priced land is in the almond-growing region of San Joaquin Valley's Tulare County, where an acre can fetch $15,000 to $19,000. Just two years ago, the price was in the $13,000-to-$16,000 range, according to surveys by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers' California chapter.

For more, see: Farmland in demand