The Top Line

April 9, 2009 01:23 PM

The Big Get Bigger

USDA's Census of Agriculture, released in February, shows the big keep getting bigger and the small are getting smaller. The middle—the guys with 1,500 to 5,000 corn and soybean acres, for example—continues to be a shrinking category.

That's why this month's cover story ("Strength In Numbers") about 10 Illinois farmers who joined forces to buy 2,462 acres is so exciting. Their goal: Keep the land locally owned and work together to help smaller farmers compete.

Much of the group farms between 2,000 and 3,000 acres, and that's nothing to sneeze at. But it is relatively small in comparison to many of the other farms in Macoupin and Montgomery counties, Ill., and for this group of farmers to secure that much ground is a rare story.

The deep, black soils of the Illinois plains have produced numerous farms in excess of 10,000 acres. Three businesses with ground in these two counties farm at least 30,000 acres each across the region. The small guys have to get more creative to compete in the cash-rent hotbed area of the Midwest.

A different approach. Conversely, a new story, three years in the making, has developed about 30 miles from this temporarily formed assembly of land barons.

Today 5% of the farms produce 75% of all agricultural sales. Even more alarming is the fact that a few more than 5,500 farms produce 28% of all cash receipts. It's easy to see the consolidation trend.

Family Farms LLC ("Family... By Invitation"), a company started in 2006, thinks it has the answers to those consolidation challenges. The main  issue with these challenge, as founder Allen Lash sees it, is that not many farmers will dedicate the time, effort and money he believes it will take to achieve success.

Lash believes you need to grow and adopt the principles he endorses quickly, something that land ownership does not always allow.

The message is clear, he says: You'll need acres to compete tomorrow, and you have to be willing to dedicate yourself to a new way of thinking. Lash's goal is to expand upon his experience with Agri-Solutions, his other company, to help Family Farms' members implement business plans and the programs necessary for success in the future.

Two divergent models, two ways of dealing with competition.

To contact Greg Vincent, email

Top Producer, Spring 2009

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