SWH in my mind a BTO is somebody who farms 5,000 acres or more. I do not say BTO with envy or fear. I don't envy a BTO because of the headaches involved on both the financial and labor aspects. As for fear.... I fear no man. The thought that bigger is better is definitely not true to agriculture. Illinois Family Farms proved that point. In my area we had a field farmed by a BTO or one of his hired hands get partially planted..... How you forget to plant headlands.. Don't ask me LOL! The mistake wasn't realized by the 15,000 acre farmer until late June. They did drag their new 24 row planter 25 miles to fix the problem, but the mistake had to be noticed by many. The sad thing about that is that this particular farmer pays hefty rents to farm stretches of ground along certain roadways whether the field is big or small; if you happen to be in the way, they will find a way to farm what was yours. I think some just look at BTO with disgust since we know it doesn't take 15,000 acres to make a living. That is just prestige farming at that point. I suppose if one can acquire that kind of acreage without affecting others in a negative way they are fine with me but that doesn't seem to be the case with most.
Like I said, I am not bothered by BTO's much. I have a very good off-farm job and farm 170 acres of family owned or blacksandfarmer owned ground...... But to add fuel to the fire-you know you are a BTO when your hired hands spend early spring unloading seed and fertilizer from your own personal rail line!
Re: Big Tract Operators
Clay County Nebraska sold a parcel for 12 k an acre---with this kind of up front investment dollars needed the cash rent would stay in the strong category due to someone wanting to participate in production ag ---a 1 to 3 year commitment for rent is a lot different structure on the finance end than a 20 year commitment to buy--- high rents prevail --
In my eyes, a BTO is defined differently in all locations. When I was in high school, I worked for what was considered in my area a BTO. 2500-3000 acres, some owned and some rented as well as 1000+ head of cattle. The operator demanded good work ethic and good character of all employee's and wasn't afraid to call out the one's who were less than his expectations, and the owner had the respect and friendship of everyone in the community including employee's. When I graduated high school, I ran to college as I didn't want anything to do with the farm anymore, I was burned out. I received a dual degree from a 4 year university (1 was agriculture) moved 100 miles away and got an engineering job at a manufacturing company. I wasn't happy at this either. As you have probably figured out, the BTO was my family farm.
Fast forward to today, I have taken over the operation though it is a changed operation. Only 240 acres are rented, the rest is owned, and I have no livestock at this point. I am now a one man show, am I still considered a BTO? My point being, there is change in all of us, I found out that farming was in my blood and was the lifestyle that I really wanted, just not at that level. I still hold an off the farm job that requires approximately 45-50 hours per week. Eventually I will become a full time operator, but not wanting to become a BTO. At that point, I will no longer rent my grass acres to neighbors and I will incorporate livestock back into the farm. I have seen life on both sides of the BTO fence, and there are pro's & con's on each side. If someone is respectful to others and wishes to be a BTO, I say good luck. In my instance, I wasn't having fun at it and a smaller operation is what I enjoy.
Who knows what the future will bring, with the average age of farmers rising, maybe the younger operator will have no choice but to be a BTO. Just because farmers are withering away the world population isn't, and we all need to eat.
Re: Big Tract Operators
There is a difference between making a living and making a life. When all is said, everybody takes the same amount of money to the grave, whether he was a BTO or a small operator. The respect that the operator had outlives his fortune.
Re: Big Tract Operators
But, we don't all take the same amount of money to the grave. I agree not physically take it, but we leave it to our spouses, children, churches, and even Uncle Sam gets his cut upon death. Your reputation outlives your body. Your family legacy lives on for generations. Some of the ground around me has been held by my family since it was settled in the 1830's. There are other tracts around me that have been passed down by neighbor families for just as long. That is something to be proud of. That doesn't happen by accident.
Around here, there are two definitions of BTO. One is Big Tract Operator, or generally speaking, the guys who farm a lot of land. These guys are generally honest, hard working folks, who may have built up a farm over several generations of hard work and efficiency. There are a few others, who got that way quickly, by being smart enough, or lucky enough to get into (and sometimes out of) the right thing at the right time, and became 'big' much more quickly. Those guys are fairly few in number around here, though (the 'lucky ones - most of the big operators got there through years of work). I have a couple neighbors like this, and they are as good of neighbors as you would want. When my brother got hurt, they even took a day off here and there to help us get his harvesting done, even though they had plenty of their own to do. These are guys you look forward to meeting at the sale barn, cafe, or even the side of the road, because they are good folks, and have the money to be ahead of me in new technology, or trying new things, and have sometimes given this young buck a little free advice as to what works, and what doesn't. If we have a cattle mix up, they are out as soon as they can, to help sort, get them back, and fix fence. If I get it done before they show up, they usually offer to pay, and I usually decline. Lots of good folks around, like this.
The other definition of BTO would be Big Time Operator. This is more a mindset, than it is an actual number of acres farmed or livestock raised. This is the guy who wants to be bigger, just for the sake of being bigger. He has no qualms about renting ground from unknowing widows for far less than it is worth, just to make themselves richer, or to be able to bid more for more land, and have no problems sleeping after driving home at night in his new Powerstroke, to his just remodeled house, while the widow has to get up and put a pot on the floor, to catch the drips where the roof leaks. This is also usually the same guy who tells the widow that what she gets in rent is 'nobody's business', and will also argue every bill he gets for everything, to the point the parts guys hide in back when they see him coming. These are the people like the ones, who, when my brother got hurt, told people to help THEM finish their harvest, and then they would take their big, modern machinery to my brother's place, and whip off a field a day. Funny thing, they got their 'free' help, but never showed up. These are also the people who just dump cattle into grass, figuring that their small-time neighbors (like me) will fix all the fences, because I have 'more spare time' than they do. They also only check their cattle every week or two, so if they get out into mine, it is up to me to sort them out myself. Duting harvest, they leave their semis blocking the road, and I have to wait for them to move, before I can drive my little straight truck through, and will even laugh at me as I go by, if hauling so little corn at a time is even 'worth the trouble'. They also have declared a couple bankrupcies, and somehow got to keep their land and equipment, without paying for it. There really are very few people around like what I just described, but of course one of them wound up neighboring to me. I'm afraid the day will come when his cows are out yet again, and I'll just look the other way, as I am tired of being just a free cowhand to him.
You may be a BTO if instead of getting out and plowing snow like the rest of us on winter days, your blacktop driveway is heated.
You may be a BTO if by the time you get up into the combine or big tractor, you have to grab a drink and a break because of all the stairs wearing you out.
If you pull up to the 'self serve' gas pumps at your local Co-Op, and the manager runs out to fill your car up for you, you may be a BTO
If the owner of the local implement dealer takes you out for steak three times in a month, his treat, you may be a BTO
If you pay the scale gal at the grain elevator to babysit during harvest, you may be a BTO
On the other hand, it is OK to have a few BTOs around. The local implement dealers let me scrounge parts from their 'discard' pile, for weigh-up price. You'd be amazed at how much flighting that many BTOs will leave on a combine elevator auger.
BTW, all the above are true stories. My combine has more than one $10 'salvage' auger in it, one of them has been there 4-5 years now.
This may sound like a weird answer, but yes and no. I believe we have the largest permitted number of nursery swine head under the General Permit. We can hold up to about 14,000 of the permitted 18,600 head our waste system will handle.
We could have permitted for well over 20K head, but stopped at a round number that made each of the three lagoons equal, for pruposs of stocking density. The smallest one met the required size for 6200 head, so we just multiplied by three. The other two lagoons are actually quite a bit bigger, so I think we could push it to near 24,000, if we wanted any more of this fun.
Frankly, we have enough eggs in this one basket. We earn enough to be happy, and adding more might make it so we aren't healthy. The responsibilities here are quite ponderous.
Two new growers have bought old farms, demolished farrowers and finishers, and built back 12,000 head nurseries. There may be one guy with a bit larger facilities, but I doubt his permit is as large as ours...there was only one in our size catefoory the last time I looked.
Re: Big Tract Operators
Though my family has been in agriculture for many, many generations dating back to the days in Russia and before that, England, my father, the farmer/historian/educator tended to remind us all that for most families, wealth and land tends to come and go as generations pass through. The first generation struggles to gain a foothold, sacrificing, even to the point of starvation and dying to establish itself. The second generation builds upon that base, using bought and paid for assets to leverage into new opportunities that solidifies the family and the farm. By the third generation, they generally have little appreciation for the sacrifices and struggles that created the foundation for the family and the farm. Decisions reflect a lack of strategic direction and vision and inspiration, family members fracture along sibling rivalries and the farm begins to fall apart as heirs fight over money and heirlooms.
There are exceptions to this rule, but I would bet most family farm units eventually disappear or are absorbed by outside investors or those who are the exception. I know many in my community that their farm will never continue within the family after they retire. I have purchased such farms in the past, and other, much larger farm operators take advantage of this opportunity to expand. The land will be sold off as heirs move further away from the farm, both in their heart and in their lives.
I would also suggest that the BTO's of this generation will have an even shorter "lifespan" as they age and move away from the center of operations. Few prodigy will have the desire or the skills needed to manage these large businesses and depending on the family dynamics, they will either import competent management or they will liquidate the assets to pursue their individual dreams.