MF Global fallout delays U.S. farm seed, land deals
With $200,000 of his money yet to be returned from the accounts of MF Global, his former broker, the 49-year-old farmer has missed a $5,000 discount for early buyers, and is watching friends and neighbors snap up the best varieties of seeds.
In the latest sign of how MF Global's failure is continuing to cascade across the commodity industry, Tofteland and other farmers who have yet to recover more than a third of their money from the bankrupt broker now find themselves in a cash crunch that risks rippling far beyond the futures market.
Some farmers have had to postpone purchases of land or equipment. Tofteland still expects to sow his 1,000 acres in the southwest corner of the state, but may have to borrow money to do so.
Still, the delay in returning billions of dollars in customer funds more than a month after MF Global filed for bankrupcy is starting to affect actual decisions on the farm. This threatens to cloud the outlook for U.S. crops, warn farmers who have been ratcheting up pressure on the bankruptcy trustee to move faster to disperse any cash he secures.
"That's pretty serious when you're raising food for the country and the world," Tofteland said.
For most farmers, the fact that their broker may have taken as much as $1.2 billion of customer money for its own use is bad enough. But the seasonal business of farming is now being disrupted since regulators still can't account for the missing funds, or even agree how big the hole is.
"The amount of money that we have tied up is significant," Tofteland said. "Because of this I've been delaying my seed purchase decisions."
Tofteland normally would have made his purchases at least two weeks ago to take advantage of discounts for farmers who buy early. He has avoided borrowing money in order to do so because he does not want to take on more debt but says he will consider a loan if the delay persists.
Tofteland worries his harvest next fall will suffer because the best-performing types of seeds will likely be sold out by the time he makes his purchases. He still plans to plant his crop in the spring.
Farmers are among the thousands of former MF Global clients who are missing money from the brokerage. The firm run by former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, an ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, collapsed Oct. 31 after making bad bets on European debt.