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Land o’ Lakes

by Martha Stevens,
Hatfield, Missouri

Martha Stevens is livestock farmer who lives and farms near Hatfield, Missouri. This article is part of an ongoing series by Martha Stevens - Straight Talk - commenting on the life and politics of farming in Missouri and the U.S. as a whole.

Land O’Lakes: an example of how a farm co-op exploits its farmer members. I received a "fact sheet"-- their own -- called "about us". I am not sure for whom this bit of information was intended, but a copy ended up on my desk. Straight from the horse’s mouth, the facts about Land of Lakes, aka Cenex.

The sheet describes in glowing detail, their involvement in everything from the gas for your car to the bacon on your plate. Described as a farmer-owned "co-op," (entitling them to certain tax exemptions) they use money from their farmer/members to construct a corporate empire in direct competition with those members, rather than pay full patronage dividends.

Land o’ Lakes is a wholesaler/retailer of more than 1.7 billion gallons of refined fuel, the largest co-op refiner in the nation. They produce 42,500 barrels per day in Laurel, Montana, and another 80,000 barrels per day from their 75% interest in National Cooperative Refinery Assn. at McPherson, Kansas. CRA is a joint petroleum venture with Farmland Industries. They own 1,200 miles of pipeline and are the top wholesaler and importer of propane.

They are also one of the largest suppliers of ethanol-enhanced gasoline, have one of the nation’s largest private truck fleets, and own Universal Cooperatives, a tire, battery, and accessories supplier.

In the area of grain marketing, Land o’ Lakes claims to be the nation’s largest co-op marketer with more than 1 billion bushels annually, operate more than 150 Agri Service Centers and have a network of feed mills manufacturing livestock feeds and animal health products. They provide financial services including hedging and options, insurance and risk management, accounting, and financial assistance for local co-ops and producers.

The company is the nation’s largest miller of durum wheat (32 million bushels), operating mills in Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas, with expansion in full swing in joint ventures. Joint ventures are what concerns me most. This is the process by which competition for farm products is virtually eliminated when the various purchasers join hands to purchase collectively, rather than utilizing the bidding process. Joint ventures include RGA Micro Tech, a mironutrient sales organization; Imperial, Inc. of Hampton, Iowa, a formulator of crop protection products that produces CLASS brand products and is also contract formulator for major Ag chemical companies. Another joint venture of which they are especially proud combines Harvest States’ Holsum Foods with Wilsey Foods, a subsidiary of Mitsui & Co. to form a company called Temco, whose primary purpose is to provide feed grains to overseas customers via a Tacoma, Washington, export facility. Harvest States/Farmland Specialty Feeds is a joint venture with Farmland Industries that produces and markets pet food.

Hm-m-m. They neglected to mention their 63,700 sows , making them 14th among the top pork powerhouses (1998). Now landowners in Worth County, this "co-op," plans to place facilities there, despite strong vocal opposition from residents.

I question the legality of this move. The Anti-Corporate Farm Law (Jerry Drake helped write it!) clearly states, "After September 28, 1973, no corporation not already engaged in farming shall engage in farming; nor shall any corporation, directly or indirectly, acquire, or otherwise obtain an interest... in any title to agricultural land in this state..." Continental Grain circumvented this law by convincing Mo’s Attorney General they were a "family farm," since the company was owned by one (extended) family. Such interpretation was not the intent of the writers of this law, according to Drake; there is no way that Cenex/Land o’ Lakes could make this claim. Perhaps it is time to bring this matter to the attention of a "reformed" MO Attorney General; one that has seen the consequences of corporate farming operations in Missouri.

Published in In Motion Magazine - May 4, 1999

Also read other essays by Martha Stevens