Pssst…. Wanna Invest In a 900,000 Acre Farm?

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From GENE LOGSDON

In the early 1970s, I left Marvin Grabacre within the pages of Farm Journal magazine just after he had, in the 21st century, bought out his last competitor who owned the other half of the U.S. farmland. Now he owned it all. Half of the U.S. had not been a large enough economic unit for a farming enterprise, he said. And he was already thinking about buying Japan, figuring he could sell off  Arizona and New Mexico to get the equity in his stock portfolio that he needed to attract that kind of investor money. Arizona and New Mexico would soon run out of water anyway, he figured, so why not get rid of them while the price was still high.

I thought I was being a smartass humor writer, drawing out to its ultimate absurd conclusion the madness of monster farming that pervaded the countryside at that time. The collapse in the land bubble came about ten years later and I thought that would be the end of idiot money farming. But by 2007, it was on the rise again and  my absurdities about Marvelous Marv didn’t sound absurd at all. Huge farms were forming in Eastern Europe, Africa, Brazil and in fact anywhere investors could get their hands on cheap land. (You can track all this with USDA’s Economic Research Service at http://www.ers.usda.gov which does not indulge in droll humor like I do.)  By 2010 Black Earth Farming, in Russia, for one, was running tractors over 1,200 square miles of farmland. (Honest). Farms of 300,000 hectares were becoming ho-hum.  Some 400 large investment companies were in the process of being formed that would, by 2012 control 35 million hectares of farmland around the world. (A hectare is more than two and a half acres, don’t forget.) So in 2010, I was inspired to write in the Autumn issue of The Draft Horse Journal about one of Marvin Grabacre’s disciples, Vladimir Megabundlevich, already farming half of Russia. He had found that half of Russia still not a viable enough unit to make a profitable farm so he bought Poland.  Megabundlevich, like Grabacre before him, was known for techniques such as running rivers (think Volga) underground so he could  farm right over them. When in an interview I asked him what his strategy was in buying Poland, he replied: “Uberminsk ta loudervichnikoff,” which roughly translated, means “get big or get out.”

I ended my report on Mr. Megabundlevich  by saying that “maybe I just don’t understand big business, but I have a feeling some crazy thinking is going on here, and it is not coming from me.” And so it has come to pass. You don’t need to take my word for it. Just go online to sites like farmlandgrab.org and see for yourself. Black Earth Farming, all 1,200 square miles of it, reported a loss of $26 million dollars in 2008 and $39 million in 2009. More recently, “it unveiled a loss of 18 million in 2013 compared to earnings of 7 million in 2012, the only profitable year in company’s nine year history.”  Since the unprofitability of this newest rage in bloat farming began before the fighting in Ukraine, war fears can’t be the whole problem here.

The bailout going on now is being described in language that sounds strangely like my absurd humor about Grabacre and Megabundlevich. Some random quotes: “Mikkail Orlov, after having sold off his Russian farming operations and shifted focus to Zambia, is back with a 4,888 cow dairy in Chechnya.”  “Black Earth Farming sells 28,000 hectares of farmland in Russia to a company owned by Ukrainian oligarch, Oleg Bakhmalyuk and U.S. grain trader, Cargill.”  Kinnevik, the investment group which is one of the biggest investors in Black Earth Farming revealed that it is selling its Polish farm to cash in on gains in land prices and bankroll other opportunities in emerging markets farther east.” “Mriya, the giant Frankfort- listed wheat and corn grower in Western Ukraine is having its bottom line revamped after admitting it can’t make a $32.6 million interest payment.”

I wonder if Mr. Grabacre ever thought about having his bottom line revamped. At least Mr. Megabundlevich has something to fall back on. They make some mighty fine vodka in Poland.
~~

19 Comments

I have just discovered Gene’s blog. Long time fan of Gene’s approach to life, society and farming. I just read A Sanctuary of Trees and loved it. My 30 year old chicken coop is modeled after the one he described years ago in, I think, Organic Farming and Gardening magazine. 8 x 12, facing south, it has served well. Gene has been one of the most important mentors for my rural home and lifestyle.

Ive been able to find old Gene Logsdon stuff by buying old farm journals and books on ebay when i got the money. Gene i know you said you got rid of your livestock but do you still raise your open pollinated corn and improve it?

    Tim, this is the last year I will grow my corn, mostly because the deer have eaten about all of it this year. They’ve got ten thousand acres of “improved” corn all around me but they like this old o-p stuff. Gene

Maybe some young-thing follower could do the research for you?

    Dave, Cash, and Betty, You all really are nice. The way this works, as I’m sure you know, is for a publisher to get interested. My publisher might be— we haven’t talked about it— but first I want to get the book finished that I am now working on. The problem for me in spending a lot of time on old stuff is that I have so much new stuff I want to keep my mind on. But I really really really do appreciate your interest and support. Gene

Gene, I second (third? fourth?) the suggestion that your earlier articles deserve reprinting. If you don’t feel up to the task of sorting and deciding, perhaps it could be a project for a publishing house, a university organic ag program or an organization like Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association with grant support. Were I in better shape physically I’d offer to take on the job myself, but my writing and editing days are past, I fear. Still, there must be options available.

Gene,

I would like to second the motion to reprint at least as much of your stuff as you can. I have been reading your stuff since I discovered you in The Mother Earth News in the early 1980’s when I was a displaced country kid. I saved up and bought a copy of Practical Skills. I have bought that book 3 times over the years as I lost it in several moves. Now I find myself on the side of the crabby older gentlemen, and the younger guys get “treated” to “wisdom” that, a great deal of, no doubt, was absorbed from your books and articles over the years. While the younger guys sometimes find your stuff on their own (and eagerly when they do), it is, more and more, men (and a few ladies) of a certain age that reference your work and ideas. I have even begun one friendship (not a common occurance for a hermit like fellow who seldom leaves the farm) at an auction when a fellow mentioned he had just been near Upper Sandusky and considered looking you up. He didn’t try out of respect for your privacy – two good reasons to like a fellow.

At any rate, in wistful discussions in various barns over the years, the same few names ALWAYS come up. In no particular order they are Yours, Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and in different conversations, Joel Salatin. I hope I give no offense when I say that seems like good company. These younger farmer will probably find your wisdom, but I vote to make it easier. Especially if it means no longer having to filter it through someone else.

Take Care,

Dave

So Gary, What about all the small farmers who’s farms are LLC’s? Since they are corporations should we outlaw them as them as you suggest. It also seems that most people who comment here think the government should keep their noises out of people’s busness, so doesn’t limiting the amount of land one could own or the size of a tractor run counter to that belief?

    The US Gov’t has been discriminating against small farmers in favor of large farmers/corporations since WWII so now there needs to be something like affirmative action for small farmers to get things back into kelter.Or I’d be for the US Gov’t getting out of having
    anything to with farming altogether just shut down the part of the USDA that deals with farmers most all the mega operations would fail in 5 years as they depend on Gov’t handouts to stay afloat.Also anti-trust laws need to be enforced against some of the large Industrial farm companies.

Gene,

I was not fortunate enough to read any of your FJ articles. Can any of them be reprinted? I would love a book of those short articles. I am sure I am not alone since I, like many of your followers are new to your work.

    Ken, I appreciate your interest in my old articles. Makes me feel important. I have always figured when I got old and decrepit and unable to do anything else, I would try to talk a publisher into reprinting some of that stuff, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Doubt any publisher would be that crazy because I am just not big wiggy enough in the literary world, as they say. I am the world’s worst record keeper, and don’t have all that stuff filed away nice and neat. I can’t remember even half the things that have been printed. There’s like 40 years worth of weekly newspaper columns, and many years of contributing regularly to Organic Gardening, New Farm, Farm Journal, Top Operator, Biocycle, In Business, Country Journal and Ohio magazines and I still write regularly for Draft Horse Journal and Farming. Then scattered articles in many other magazines like Mother Earth News. Then lots of reprints in other magazines. Some of my old articles appear also in some of my books. It would take a year of skillful research which I am not capable of, just to find them all and then another year to throw out all the ones not worth reprinting, which I fear would be most of them. Gene
    Tim: I remember that piece about lost hammers. I think that was the first one I got paid real money for. The dimensions of my shed are not of any importance. I just stuck telephone poles in the ground and nailed boards on them. I suppose its about 30 by 10 feet. Make your shed big enough for your equipment. Well, no one has ever accomplished that. The shed is never big enough. Gene

      Yep i follow the yesterdays tractors forumns and visited one guys collections of allis chalmers. Someof these guys have Real museums on their farms!! and I’ve never heard anyone say they had too much storage except at property tax time! lol

The underlying danger in all this is eventually some large group will get enough farmland and political power that will go with all the $$$ involved to have what amounts to a food cartel.Think its bad having a few folks controlling oil?That’ll be small potatoes compared to a few controlling food, Heirloom seeds will be outlawed and probably growing any food crop as well by individuals.If you think that’s crazy consider here in the state of Virginia we had to beat back a law/rule a few years ago that would have outlawed raising chickens and most other poultry outside of a building.People thought it was a joke when it was first brought up.
My radical solution is to limit the number of acres anyone can own and outlaw all corporate farmland ownership just so we can all survive and produce food in the future.And limiting any farm tractor sold to 100 HP would be a step in the right direction too.

Anyone care to make a guess of how much loot the individual(s) behind these megafarms will walk away with while the investors lose their shirts. (And pants, skivvies,socks too) These enterprises bear as much resemblance to farming as Wall Street does to real business.

But, hey, as long as the scheme is still hot I am willing to part with a couple of billion acres on Jupiter at a really good price. Big Red Spot not included. That’s really my extraterrestrial tomato patch.😉

Have a great rest of the week and get those tomatoes canned.

thank you for sprinkling some humo(u)r over this utter madness, glad to hear it does not even make financial sense (a game of Monopoly) I can only imagine the weight of the machines farming that kind of acreage and the resulting soil compaction, my heart goes out to the earthworms.

Gene, I take heart in the fact that the fastest growing group of farmers are the Amish, with farms of generally 120 acres or less. Almost without exception they are diversified and profitable enterprises due to low input costs, a willingness to take the long view toward sustainability, and plenty of old-fashioned hard work. And to top it all off, they accept no USDA government ag welfare handouts like their English neighbors do!

I remember reading the marvin grabacre story in farm journal I Bought off of ebay the farm journal articles about lost hammers Gene. Though i havnt gotten FJ in years. I did keep some that had good small farming articles in them. My wish for all thses magazines is to go back and see where a lot of these people are today and how are they doing?Are you still growing your open pollinated corn ?I kept a picture you had of your machinery shed. I need to build some kind of cheap shed for my machinery. What is the deminsions of yours? I quit working for one farm when he said he was going to expand again. I had gotten so burnt out from always working in the hog barn and the constant grind especially from pushing the big machinery over More and more land that i didnt have time or the energy to do my own tiny bit like i wanted.But it was still worth it for the education and things i learned that no university could ever teach.Sorry so disorganized lol tim [in]

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