OMAHA — As head of one of the country's largest farm-management companies, Hugh L. Tinley studies the future. He sees fewer but bigger farms and tougher competition from developing nations learning to feed themselves.
"The future farmer will spend more time with his computer than with his tractor because he must control expenses," said Tinley, president of Farmers National Co., headquartered in Omaha. "He will be well educated, whether it's college or not, and he'll be a respected agribusinessman."
The progressive American farmer of the 1990s, said Tinley, will own 300 acres to 500 acres of land and lease an additional 500 acres to 600 acres.
Vying for U.S. Markets
He will also compete with food exporters in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Developing countries that learned agricultural techniques from U.S. innovators are now feeding their people and even vying for our markets, Tinley said.
"Our farmers have overproduced themselves right out of business. We have tried to turn inward and support our prices from the government. It won't work. We need to learn to sell and merchandise, to capture markets and compete on a worldwide basis."
Farmers National manages 1 million acres worth more than $1 billion on 3,700 farms in nine Midwestern states for 2,800 clients. These are absentee landlords who live in all 50 states and several foreign countries. The company has 3,700 tenant farmers who work the land and split the costs and profits of crops.
"Our clients are widows, retirees, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, and second generations which inherited farms but don't live on them," Tinley said.
"Half the farms in the Midwest are owned by non-resident farmers," Tinley said. "Most non-resident farmers have little or no debt.
"The real problem, pure and simple, is debt. Those who don't have it aren't getting rich, but they're hanging in there."
Some Bright Spots
Tinley said that through the current gloom he sees some bright spots on the horizon.
"World population will continue to increase and people have to eat. Cities also are getting bigger because people are leaving the farms. That makes the cities dependent on professional farmers, and we are the best in the world.
"Finally, humans are moving up the food chain. In 1910, Europeans ate black bread, turnips and cereals. Now they eat protein foods: milk, eggs, butter, meat. Around the globe, the first thing people spend their money for is diet."