Agiant in the land of black dirt has fallen. Big-time farm operator and past Top Producer of the Year finalist Rick Rosentreter of Illinois Family Farms filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past November. The sound of his topple from grace was heard far beyond Carlinville, Ill. News spread like wildfire through the blogosphere and discussion boards went wild, dissecting his financial and personal life.
At one time, in some circles, Rosentreter represented the future of commercial agriculture. His operation grew rapidly to 30,000 acres in 2011, amassing ground without owning it. He was the first investor in FamilyFarms LLC, a business built around the concept of farmers buying into the company on a per-acre basis and agreeing to adhere to standard operating procedures.
Rosentreter told Top Producer in 2009 that the concept of FamilyFarms helped him think like a manager and provided a springboard for growth. FamilyFarms founder Allen Lash once tagged Rosentreter one of the "best students" he ever worked with.
What Went Wrong?
Usually when companies fail, their CEOs offer every excuse in the book: a bad economy, market turbulence, hundred-year floods, perfect storms. In a few cases, the excuses ring true. But a close study of corporate failures suggests that most fail for one simple reason: managerial error.
Top Producer has repeatedly invited Rosentreter to talk about his business so that others can learn and prevent similar loss. He has not returned phone calls or e-mails. Greg Vincent, former Top Producer editor, did interview Lash. Read what he has to say starting on page 14.
I have received numerous voicemails and letters alleging unethical dealings in Rosentreter’s rental arrangements. No one, however, is willing to go on the record. If Rosentreter was my competitor, I probably wouldn’t like him either. But the hate letters about him from folks in "God’s country" send a chill up my spine. The reality is that Rosentreter will not come out of this bankruptcy looking like a king—his name is tied to all the lawsuits, along with his wife and family’s.
In farming, we salute people who work hard to grow their operation. We often root for them on the climb up and then criticize them when they get there. Some people can’t stand to see anyone succeed. In Rosentreter’s case, I think it is the tactics he used that created the backlash—not so much the fact that he amassed huge amounts of acreage.
Failure is part of the natural cycle of business, and we canlearn from it. I promise that Top Producer will run more follow-up stories as to "why that didn’t work" and balanced articles that ask deeper questions. Keep reading and we’ll learn together.
- January 2012