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Agriculture in Uncertain Times

Pressures Continue to Grow in the Ag, Logistics Industries

You can’t eat cryptocurrency, and you can’t drink crude oil. The cultivation of plants and animals for human consumption —i.e., agriculture—represents one of mankind’s few truly indispensable activities. Eliminate modern agriculture, and civilization disappears, along with all its high-tech marvels, its instantaneous communications, and most of its 8+ billion people.

For that reason, everyone living on planet Earth has a vital stake in the stability and productivity of the world’s agricultural sector. And yet, as critical as agricultural markets may be to our species’ very survival, most people in the Western world don’t spend too much time thinking about these issues—or at least they didn’t until skyrocketing food prices, supply-chain disruptions, and a great-power proxy war in Europe’s breadbasket (i.e., Ukraine) converged to force these matters to the front of their minds.

This habit of neglecting agricultural concerns seems just as common even in the turnaround and restructuring community. When I was asked to guest edit this month’s edition of the Journal of Corporate Renewal, I learned that the JCR had not run an agriculture-focused issue since May 2020—even as the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening international tensions had imposed formidable new challenges for agricultural enterprises in the last two years. The articles in this month’s issue seek to redress this apparent omission. I think they do.

Dillon Zwick, a manager at Meadowlark Advisors, begins the edition with a survey of the many challenges now facing the agriculture industry in “Tough Row to Hoe Ahead for the Agriculture Industry.” Among other things, Dillon explains how labor shortages, persistent high production costs, and exogenous risks posed by climate change and geopolitical instability will roil agricultural markets for the foreseeable future.

James Lanik and Jennifer Lyday then examine Chapter 12 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. In “Key Advantages of Chapter 12 Bankruptcy for Struggling Family Farmers,” they describe how Chapter 12 differs from Chapter 11 and Chapter 13. As partners at Waldrep Wall Babcock & Bailey, PLLC, James and Jennifer have considerable expertise in Chapter 12.
Their article demonstrates why this chapter trumps the others as a restructuring option for family farmers and family fishermen.

Steve Kluemper, president of AgriStrategies LLC, and Rhett Rowe, CEO of Great Lakes Business Credit, present two complementary articles that examine agricultural enterprises from the perspective of capital lenders and other financial services providers. Steve’s article, “Working with Agricultural Enterprises: Understanding the Lay of the Land,” takes the 30,000-foot view. It outlines the unique characteristics of agricultural firms, such as the crucial roles that real property and government policy play in these firms’ success (or failure). Rhett then drills down on a particular agricultural enterprise in “Considerations in Financing Florida-Based Citrus Enterprises.” He scrutinizes how one company, a Florida-based agribusiness that produces citrus and blueberries, operates and how it manages both its risks and opportunities.

Finally, Jeffrey Barber, Kristina Johnson, and Gina Jacobs, all partners at Jones Walker, LLP, provide a fascinating case-study of the sheer complexity of the state and federal lien issues that can arise when an agribusiness files Chapter 11. “Food Fight: A Clash of Conflicting Grain Statutory Schemes” explores the battle royal that ensued among lenders, commodity brokers, and farmers when a Mississippi grain elevator filed bankruptcy last year.

I hope that you enjoy reading this month’s articles as much as I did. They gave me something to think about—especially the next time I’m picking out fruit at the grocery store or ordering a hamburger at lunch. They’ll probably linger in your minds for just as long.

W. Steven Bryant

W. Steven Bryant

Locke Lord LLP

W. Steven Bryant is a partner in the Bankruptcy, Restructuring, and Insolvency Practice Group at Locke Lord LLP and is located in the Austin, Texas, office. His experience spans a range of industries, including energy, real estate, and health care. Board-certified in business bankruptcy law, Bryant has represented corporate debtors, official committees, and secured and unsecured creditors in complex business bankruptcy cases across the U.S. He also represents plaintiffs and defendants in bankruptcy-related litigation, including avoidance actions and director and officer litigation.

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