Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium: The Implications of Consolidated Land Ownership - Q&A

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A post speech Q&A at forum on "The Implications of Consolidated Land Ownership" from the "Food, Farming and the Future" symposium, held at Concordia College in Moorhead. Keith Bjerke, president-elect of the Greater North Dakota Association and operator of a 3,000-acre farmstead in Northwood, North Dakota, had presented a pro large farm viewpoint; and Charles Lutz, Director of the Church in Society Office with the American Lutheran Church, had presented an anti large farm viewpoint. They both answered questions form the audience.

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

My dad told me once that a large farm was one that contained a hundred acres more than he had. Unfortunately when we try to legislate sorry, we run into those types of problems and if it concerns me that we we can't allow the market to work. Write today across the road from my farm there 640 acres for sale. And if anyone here wishes to bile and I submit to you that it's available. There are no bitters today. and indicates a couple of things to me. one is that it's not all gravy out there go on land. And the second is that the policies that we're operating under currently don't favor much expansion in that Arena are there would be willing buyers for that land. I don't attempt and don't attempt to own the land that I farm. I would like to own a base. I just wrote down and and right today. I have 10 families. I'm making their living off my phone. six of those families have a family farm that they have chosen not to operate any more that we operate for them. We rent the land. One of the families is my employer. One of the family's is my father. and two other families that we have purchased land from but the point is that As farms grow. I don't see this thing of of one person owning on all the lamp in our state. I don't I don't think that's a realistic problem. Write today anyone that wants to buy a land can go into any County in this state and buy all the land that he wants. There are far more sellers in our buyers. And there's a reason for that. Because there is no big incentive to own declining assets. And that's why we are folks. declining assets and agriculture So I I couldn't agree more that we don't want one landowner in North Dakota or Minnesota. But I I feel that we're just we're debating a mute point. I don't think anyone cares to be the landowner of North Dakota from Minnesota. We've heard some rather bias discussion about these corporations that are taking over agriculture. And insurance companies come to the Forefront in much of this discussion. Whether it's Nebraska or Minnesota or North Dakota and I submit to you that those insurance companies didn't acquire that land to purchase. They've acquired that land through default on mortgages. And to the last one would probably very gladly get rid of it. They didn't make that mortgage to ultimately own that land. They made that mortgage to put some Financial power behind agriculture. We begged for that mortgage. And they provided it and if we default on that mortgage, the law says that what we put up for collateral goes to the provider. North Dakota, we have a law that says if that Corporation cannot continue to own that land. I think it's 5 years something like that. They can hold it before they disperse of it. And as a result of that there is less land mortgage money available in North Dakota than a lot of steaks because they don't want to get into that situation. Those companies that are making these mortgages are doing it for one thing and its profit. If you ask for that loan and you default on that long, then they take their normal course, but we need to remember that they're not out there eagerly trying to buy this stuff off my dress. Thank you Keith move on to Charles response. Keith I at least for one did not put the blame on the corporations and I don't think it resides there in terms of concentration of Holdings in Midwest states. At least. I don't know other parts of the country very well could be a problem in California. I think most of the Transfer of Farmland in the states. I know of the Midwest from Iowa through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska Becomes land if not added to the ownership of existing Family Farms at least comes under the control of existing Family Farms so that however you talk about the tenure system. The control is still there. It seems to me and the number of people farming is reduced. I think that continues to happen and that's what bothers me and that's what I'd like to see us address policy changes as a whole society to get out. I don't think corporations are the villain in the midwest in terms of concentration of farm land Holdings for one thing. Most of our states have anti non-farm corporate ownership of Farmland laws, and I don't see anybody agitating to get rid of those except a few of the corporation's perhaps but I don't think they're in danger of falling so I don't think that is the problem. I think whether they like it or not its existing farmers who have some kind of economic leverage who more often than not acquire. Turn farm that additional land when it goes on the when a farmer goes under and they may Farm it as tenants for a or an insurance company that's holding it. They don't necessarily have to buy it. But the control of the Farmland it seems to me however you talk about it is going into fewer and fewer hands and that bothers me and I would think it would bother Farmers to because who wants to live alone on that land. I mean relatively speaking who wants to live in communities that are half the population they were 20 years ago. And how far do we want that to continue? And when do we step in as a society saying it's gone far enough. Let's try to Halt it. That's what I think we need to talk about. Thank you, when I move on to the question-and-answer segment, I guess I would like to ask question of either either one of the panelists. Would it not be more feasible that these small communities maybe search and look for other Alternatives rather than being supported on the back of every culture. I I believe they are you make a good point. My my community would dearly love to have a Saturn plant. It's just not all available. But we do we do have people in this state that I'm very concerned about processing of agricultural products, but they call at about things that we can do with the raw materials to to create local job market and and increase the value of raw materials and ship them around this nation and around the world and there's some communities that have made great success in this but unfortunately, I found like mine of 1,200 people they find it difficult to attract much of this but there are lots of talk like that in the local Chambers of Commerce in and these areas and I think they need to continue. In the early reference keys to the 20% the 17% that aren't so to speak taking part. I guess it would be fun to know how many Bankers how many implement dealers and that sort of people are here at this Farm. I guess the question is how to stir them. How do we stir the other 17% so that we could come on? So the total energy that makes the noise. It's necessary. I'm in Dangerous Waters here because I'm not a farmer but it seems to me that the first response you get from policymakers and and legislators and people of that and the general public is God be great to have all 20% United who depend on the rural economy or the or the agricultural base for their economy, but it also be great to have the 3% United in pursuing the same goal, and I don't think we're even close to that. I know I turn it over to Keith. Last night Pat Benedict said that the fire Farmers got up in the morning and they couldn't decide if it was a nice day or not. And it's it's very unfortunate and I've been in touch with friends and Neighbors on act policy all year and some of the 17% has been involved and it's amazing. It's really amazing. And in what scares me is that the 17% is getting together. We're getting together better than the 3% are and if you think that our 85 farm bill is going to be written by the 3% I think you're not reading the paper that your father was one of your employers and my my question is are the other families in your operating unit. Also are they as your father is your employer's at an equal sort of relationship between you and running the whole operation and what about the relationship of the other Farmers that are they a tenant farmers? Are they labor our labors? I didn't I didn't explain myself very well. I purchased my father's interests in the farm in 1974 and I'm paying for it to this day. I am by purchased it on a contract for deed and his income his livelihood comes from my farm because I bought my land from my father. I also have rented land from other farmers and their livelihood comes from the rent that I pay. I have one employee and his livelihood comes from my farm. But the the implication that this was some type of magic here putting together on a legal Corporation. I didn't mean to leave with you my my father my father made the choice a 1974 to sell the land to me, which I did. So those farmers are no longer. I mean they own the land but they're no longer participating in the operation and some of the owners are all of the original if you see that they wanted to keep the ownership in the land, but they're employed out of the state. And they didn't want to to find the land. They wanted to own the land and have someone else for me. So they came to me and said would you find this land for me? And I said, yes. Yes, please. I have to brief observations. I like reaction to reach from each of the two speakers who I was a great deal of Interest appreciation the first I don't really think you are real that far apart in your basic goals this comes because I am a frontier store on and because I'm a Survivor of three generations are Great Plains firing bolt in South Dakota and Texas. My wife people. What is the Homestead Act which is a great ideal never was a viable. I never was an actual and Ace not even back there another quarter section. You got another quarter section. You got to purchase them some disillusion fire was selling off or through commentation relating to and there was a bible-based have been fine, but it never was facing the Great Plain you couldn't have been ever. I appreciate you asking though. I think you're right at least in. In certain parts of a you said in the Great Plains, I think a quarter section was not enough even back then in Iowa though in North Iowa. Where there where the Homestead Act at least in some areas did operate an in eastern Nebraska. I think they had a hundred and sixty acres to start with and that did support families most of the time in those regions depended on the rainfall, of course in the and the quality of the soil, but I was arguing from the principal of the Homestead Act, which is I understand it goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson who even before the country was founded was writing about the desirability of having this land people by a lot of people a lot of Yeoman Farmers entrepreneurs the backbone of the nation and he didn't Envision that we'd someday be 90 summer 90s 97% Yes, non-farm in our population. Of course. He thought it would always I supposed to be majority of us. The land operating a self-sufficient Farms, but it's the principle that I think was the important thing that I was trying to lift up and I think the principal is still there, but the whole society has a self-interest and having a dispersed ownership or control of the land. I won't argue without a bad, and one interesting thing that maybe I should mention of the farmers that I have displaced. None have left the community every single one of those family still lives in our community. In fact our Sunday School in the rural Parish has more children and it today than when I was in Sunday School. We started last Sunday with 52 children and I think the peak. 40 years ago was about 40. So is that all they do is collect their rent. Some of them must work. It's not one of them drives are a few of our transport. One of them is the busiest of the bunch and he stays at home and takes care of his yard and and the ghost auction sales and my dad fights a lot of golf and really most of them are not actively employed but I cash a there there's an economic principle there and there's they're not displaced and they're not on welfare. There's still a part of my day didn't move to the city. So try it is seems any way in Mr. Lexxus presentation that I have the feeling that that sentiment is about that says that every man who wants to have a few Acres 1520 Acres, whatever they call a pig in a duck in a horse and be self-sufficient or whatever he may have and I think returning is that might be something of a previous. I don't know. He might say the Rejuvenation of the old good old days or whatever. I think I'd like to hear some comment. I'm just at concept of something at agriculture is no longer wearing exchange Society. You work someplace spend your dollars by the food that we produce and we're businesspeople that way maybe you could have lived in those. Thank you for the question because it does let me see a little more about what I do and do not mean I do not want to be arguing nostalgically for a return to a former era. I basically want to argue for putting on the brakes and not going in. Farther toward concentration. I'm talking about the kind of Agriculture. We've known in the Midwest and still for the most part half and we got to make it economically productive for people who operate such size Holdings to continue doing that and we ought to make it possible as a society for new people to get into that business if they want to that's what I think we should hold onto not for reasons of nostalgia or sentiment but because for the reasons I tried to outline earlier, I think that's in the best interest of the whole society as well as the people who want to do that kind of work for a living. For the questions. Yes, please. I have a variety of beginning farmer programs and I'm concerned who that next Generation to farmers are going to be and I would like to hear your answers to this. If you're not concerned with the increase size and who's going to be able to make those loans to start at beginning Farmer in the years to come. There's no question. But what am I farm those family? I have displaced their children. I'm not going to be players. All right, they they have made a conscious decision to leave the lamp. My children still have a choice to make. But for every five Farmers that I just place I displaced five potential young farmers. and that I think it's the most serious part of the other predicament, but you know, we we do make choices always. And we we can't always change that and we've had a couple of instances especially in the late 70s, you know, things were pretty good out there and we had a pharmacist if moved home to farm. Tobacco Family Farm and in some of these situations happen, you know every generation or so, but for those other five Farmers that have quit and left and retired and sent their kids to college and then play them in Minneapolis. Those kids aren't coming back to that farm. So my my children have have a choice to make there's do not it's that simple and and that's serious. One thing that has Disturbed me over the years and is about the area of a farmer who is ready to retire and because of some tax laws and because of ways you happy imputed interest on loans and everything else it ties young farmer into a situation where his father can't really help him get started and I guess if we're sitting in a society that says we're going to help you on Farmers begin. Why can't we see the Farms that are already existing as a viable unit. We transferred with a lot less hassle Ladarius inheritance tax or whether it is tax on imputed interest me. Speak to that issue. That's a that's a real pet peeve of mine the intergeneration transfer its. It's difficult in my case. I have you know, taking the route of purchasing the land from my father. I was fortunate. I was an only child learn many things about that that are good but settling a farm is one of them. the transfer from one generation to another is a is a real serious thing and Agriculture and I think I'm just in agriculture because of the the SF base much more on just 10 years ago and my dad that it is today because now it's deteriorated down to the point where there's not as much money involved, but the you know when when land was $1,200 an acre And if you had didn't take very much to have quite an estate to pay quite a lot of facts on and that can be a problem one last question and representative from the younger generation. I was wondering how well it's been documented that smaller Farmers take better care than better care the land those than the corporate farmers do. I don't think I said smaller Farms. I said family held Farms because I think the Evidence is pretty strong that when the when the land stays in my family generation after generation and I expected it will I have a self-interest economically and caring for that land today? So it'll serve many future Generations cuz those are my children and grandchildren. That's the that's the only point I was making and it has very little to do with size. I think when the workers on the land are also the people who directly benefit not as wage earners not as employed workers, but as this is my land and it's going to or it's going to be mine someday. There's a different incentive to care for the land for the long-term resident to get in and make a quick killing for a decade and get out. That was my only point about the stewardship of the land that family ownership of land through many generations. I think helps to to to assure that


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