The Last Farmer

789901EB-D5A5-49EE-AD42-64E235101469An Interview in 2001 with Marvelous Marv Grabacre
From Gene Logsdon

{Thanks to Pamela Smith, an Editor with The Progressive Farmer, we are posting an article by Gene that was published  in the May/June 1984 issue of The New Farm that you may find is still relevant today…}

Now that we have entered the 21st century we can look back in amazement at one of the most rapid technological strides in the history of man. In the final quarter of the 20th Century, 2.5 million farmers were freed from the drudgery of farm work to spend their days happily assembling silicon chips on circuit boards in computer factories. Average farm size skyrocketed from a measly 400 acres to more than 1,975,456,000 acres, not counting those parts of the central and southwestern plains abandoned to decertification. While one farmer fed only 78 people in 1984, today he feeds 275 million, more or less. And he is, as everyone knows, Marvelous Marv Grabacre.

Since Marvelous Marv bought out his last competitor recently (Great Western Farms LTD), which had owned most of the farmland west of the Mississippi), he has been a hard man for the press to corner. Odd as it may seem, although there is only one farmer left, there are still 743 magazines and newsletters in business to serve him. Until last week, Grabacre had successfully eluded the farm press. Then he mired his 5,000-horsepower Steiger Dreadnought in the mud while straightening a bend in the Mississippi River just south of Cairo, Ill., leaving him more or less marooned up in the 12th floor of the tractor. Tipped to Grabacre’s plight, his writer rented a helicopter, raced to the scene and was lowered to the cab of the Dreadnought. In exchange for enough Tanqueray gin to keep him in martinis until Dreanought No. 3 arrived from Oklahoma to pull him out, Grabacre consented to this exclusive interview.

New Farm: How does it feel to be the last farmer in the United States?
Grabacre: Humbling. I’m just a simple country boy, you know, and now I’ve got to worry that if I don’t get Illinois and Iowa planted on time, 10 million people are going to starve to death.
New Farm: Well, you didn’t have to buy the western United States, too.
Grabacre: These are tough times in farming, son. Prices being what they are, you gotta keep lowering that per-unit cost to stay solvent. Like Farm Journal put it in an editorial just a month ago, the eastern half of the United States is just not a viable economic unit anymore. I hated to take advantage of Great Western when those boys were down on their luck, but it’s not my fault the Colorado River dried up. Besides, if I hadn’t bought that farm, Japan would have.
New Farm: To what do you attribute your colossal success?
Grabacre: The Lord’s been good to me, son, and so have a lot of mighty fine banks… er, people. If I could take credit for anything it is in having faith in this great country. I believed the government when it said it was out to save the family farm. All those years when critics said government programs were only helping the big boys, they we’re wrong and I knew it. Uncle Sam kept its word. He saved the family farm. Mine.
New Farm: You…are…saying…that…you, er, Grabacre Enterprises is a family farm?
Grabacre: Of course.I got a son or daughter, or brother or in-law running every region. We’re just one big happy agri-family.
New Farm: C’mon now, Mr. Grabacre, you’re running a big multinational corporation.
Grabacre: Well, of course we’re incorporated for tax purposes, like every family farm should be. But 84% of the stock is family owned. Back when all that hullabaloo was raised about big corporations taking over farming, I kept saying that was bunk. There never was more than 10% of the farms owned by those outside corporation. And now it’s 0 percent.
New Farm: Is there any particular government program that stands out in your memory as a real savior of the family farm, that is, your family farm?
Grabacre: They all helped plenty, but the PIK program back in ’83 [Reagan’s payment in kind program] was the real banana cream pie. That’s when I realized the Good Lord wanted the Grabacres to feed the world. Hardly anyone remembers now, but I was bankrupted in ’83. I’d built up to 50,000 acres in central Illinois by borrowing every cent I could. Already I could see the big picture. If you could farm 50,000 acres, you could farm a state, and if you could farm a state, well, you see how it goes.
New Farm: But you went bankrupt.
Grabacre: Not my fault. The bankers just lost faith for awhile. Little minds tend to worry about little debts–a measly $5 million or $6 million. Money comes and goes, but the land just lays there waiting to be grabbed. So I had to take a Chapter 13. Sold all my machinery. I couldn’t farm the 50,000. They’d have sold that too, but the price was too low for them to get their money out of it. And then, out of the blue, came PIK. I put every acre in it they’d let me, and I was saved. In fact, that was the only year I ever remembered making money actually from farming, or, that is from un-farming.
New Farm: The only year?
Grabacre: Hardly ever is there any money in actually farming. You make money most of the time on the land. And on tax breaks. You got a zillion tax breaks in farming, if you’re big enough to take advantage of them. I’m telling you, Uncle Sam has stopped at nothing to save the family farm.
New Farm: But why your family farm and not someone else’s?
Grabacre: I was just fortunate enough to have a bigger imagination than the other, that’s all. See that clipping there on the cab wall? That’s from a Kiplinger Agricultural Letter promotion piece in 1984, 10-year prediction. I know it by heart: “Thousands of farmers will be forced to sell out completely or switch to a part=time operation… A lot of good families are going to get hurt. But if you are the one out of four or five who plays it smart and survives the shake-out, you are going to be in the driver’s seat… running the major food factory for a world that grows ever hungrier.”
New Farm: Oh, we heard that kind of promotional drivel for years.
Grabacre: Sure we did. But it was true, only not true enough. Right then, when I read that back in ’84, I says to myself that if the system was allowing this to happen, then it would go on happening. It wouldn’t be the “one out of four or five,” it would eventually be “the one” period.
New Farm: What do you have to say about the public outcry against you, even though you feed all of us? Your critics say food prices are too high, the quality too low, and only the staples in good supply. Grabacre: Hey, what do you expect with one man feeding 275 million? I can’t do everything, you know.
New Farm: They say you only got where you are by contributing more money to political campaign funds than other farmers did.
Grabacre: I’ve never done anything illegal. I’ve never had to do anything illegal. Society and the government it votes for made the rules and I just followed them a trifle better than other farmers. Sure, there have always been critics and protestors bemoaning the passing of small farms, but the truth is that the majority of people wanted someone to provide them with the cheapest possible food in the most convenient way. They wanted a Grabacre to worry about food for them, so they had more time for leisure activities. Now that I’m making them pay the full cost of the food plus a good profit for me, now they complain. But society created me. If it wouldn’t be me, it would be someone else like me.
New Farm: But you drove land prices up so other farmers couldn’t compete for it and new farmers couldn’t get in.
Grabacre: How can you say that? I’d have loved to buy all that land cheaper. Takes two to bid up a price. All of society is motivated by the Top Dollar Psychology. I didn’t invent it. That’s how the economy works. Just look at all those farmers who condemned me on the way to the top. When they retired, did they sell their land to a young beginning farmer at a price he or she could afford? Hell no! They sold to me because they knew I’d pay top dollar.
New Farm: What’s your next move?
Grabacre: I’ve been watching Russia lately.They’re in a real bad way over there. They did the same thing with their farmland as I did with ours, but they had to use force and bloodshed, while all I needed was a good banker and a first-rate machinery dealer. The problem is that none of those Commie leaders know a thing about good farming. So they’re just about broke enough that I can buy them out reasonable. If China doesn’t beat me to it. Now the Chinese, they’re smart enough to know that one good farmhand is worth 32 soldiers any day. It just takes a little longer. But first I’ve got to ditch some water out of Canada into the Colorado to get it running again. Gonna take a lot of money. A farmer never has much cash in his pocket, but boy, he sure does die rich.
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2 Comments

Boy do we miss you Gene..Every time I read something that you had wondered about the answer to ,Wish I could send it to you.I see Dave Haferd your cousin passed a year ago and wished we could have known more about his farm and others you wrote about..I hope Carol and your family and friends are doing ok. Someday I hope to visit your grave and bring flowers from all of us and see the Kildeer nest there. Rest peacefully my friend.

Gene, er, Marv, wasn’t off by too many years!

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