Agriculture's Big Picture
AgWeb Editor Greg Vincent takes a big-picture look at agriculture and current events.
Addressing the Questions
Apr 17, 2009
While I understand the concern about the concept, I’d like to address some of the questions directed to me over the past week. I’ll address some general questions I’ve received, and some that have been speculated about on some ag discussion boards.
That’s pretty simple and I believe the response to the article is the best reason I can show why the story ran. For the past three years this program has been in development, but it has been kept quiet. Some people may believe this concept is a good idea and they may want to try to find out how to participate. It’s not about publicity for Family Farms, but it is about telling our readers there is a new concept out there if they want to learn more about it.
The primary reason I ran the story, however, is I felt our more than 120,000 readers deserve to know what is happening from a competitive standpoint. Whether people like it or not, ignoring it won’t make it go away. Understandably several people don’t believe this is a good concept, and they have been quite vocal in their disagreement. But that reaction to the story shows that most people in the Midwest didn’t know about it.
- Why have we written so much about Illinois Family Farms and Rick Rosentreter?
Granted we have covered what Rosentreter and his company’s philosophy quite a bit. He is trying new things, some very successfully, but it’s been controversial. I get that.
However, because of the coverage he has received I felt we needed to include him and his connection to Family Farms LLC to shed some light on what has been driving his business the past three years. The Family Farms model and his connection to Allen Lash has certainly been a primary driver for his decisions and I hope it clarified for some where his philosophy is coming from.
From what I have gathered on many of the posts, most of the concerned parties about this story are from central Illinois, where Rosnetreter is based. I understand the concern about the competitive situation in this area. That concern, notwithstanding, I felt we had to write about this since this concept is in place throughout the Midwest.
The following questions are from a letter I received last night about the article, along with my responses to the questions.
My wife and I both read your article in the spring 2009 edition of “Top Producer” magazine, “Family…by Invitation”. Neither she nor I got the gist of this article, and were pretty much in wonder of what this article was about, and what FamilyFarms LLC is about.
- What did we miss?
I admit there are a lot of unanswered questions about this concept, and I will continue to try to get those answers in future issues.
The people that Family Farms has talked with and have declined the offer signed confidentiality agreements before hearing the sales pitch. They spoke with us on the condition of anonymity and I honored that request in all cases. I printed only what I could confirm as factual. The facts were reviewed by all those quoted. Only one of the facts presented in the article was disputed by Lash and Rosentreter. (This was the $8,500 bill for budgeting fees that Killam pointed out.) Neither Lash nor Rosentreter would tell me what the actual number was, but they said it was not accurate. I reported it because Killam gave me a hard number.
- What is the objective of this company?
I believe this is open to interpretation. Lash claims it is to help farmers survive consolidation as stated in the article. It’s also clear, and in the article, that he believes it will take a certain attitude and dedication to do so. I honestly believe he believes in what he is saying and promoting. I don’t know whether it is the answer to surviving in the farm business or not, but I felt it was important to shed some light on what is happening in the country (and maybe in some people’s backyards who didn’t know about it) and present the concept to our readers and let them make up their minds on their own.
From the chatter on the some ag Web sites I think it’s safe to say the goal of keeping the company quiet was relatively successful. I felt it was important to make sure all of our readers know what is happening.
It has also become clear that growth is going to be an important part of this company’s mission. Lash still maintains that’s not the main goal, but he did say it’s important for any business to be focused on growth.
- How do they benefit their members?
That’s the $1,000,000 question. From what I have gathered from talking with Rosentreter and Mehmen the benefit is that it has helped them grow and become better managers. That is what they see as the benefit. Illinois Family Farms growth is mentioned in the article by the acreage numbers presented. The only information I could gather on the Mehmens’ (MBS) growth is their rise in the subsidy database. This obviously isn’t definitive on their growth, but it is a good indication of how much they’ve grown in three years. I understand that some readers may not see that as a benefit and that’s OK, this is simply one approach this company is deciding to take.
Additionally, the potential to buy a farm management company could secure acres for their members’ growth. The franchise approach, by my own interpretation, would mean that they won’t have to deal with further competition to farm the management company’s ground in their local area. And yes, I can understand why that is controversial and why it has many people upset.
If this is the true benefit for the members and how it plays out in the future remains to be seen. Lash did not elaborate on any other areas of potential business development.
- Why the cloak and dagger?
I don’t know if there is any dagger, but the cloak is because they didn’t want the publicity. Lash was very clear with me that he did not want this article published and he was not very forthcoming with information until I was able to take information to him for confirmation or denial. To Allen’s credit he did work with me to make sure that facts presented were accurate. He did not dispute the information I was able to gather from my research—notwithstanding the $8,500 previously mentioned.
- The “Quick Breakdown of the FamilyFarms LLC Concept” states the focus is on implementation, taking it beyond consulting services that stop at advice. Implementation of what?
The implementation is for the PR planning, the environmental audits and requirements, the accounting programs, etc.