'It was crazy': Farming titan among the survivors of ‘80s crisis
PINGREE, N.D. — David Glinz worries that farmers are coming dangerously close to reliving the 1980s farm credit crisis.
He knows all about that.
Glinz, 73, farms as Glinz Farms LLC, near Pingree, and is the only farming survivor in an epic farming meltdown. He, his audacious father and his younger brother together controlled 75,000 acres in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
Individually, David was farming more than 50,000 acres of non-irrigated wheat in 1982 when his banker said he’d have to pay off a whopping $20 million of debt in 30 days. He said, “No way,” and negotiated to forfeit 10,000 acres in exchange for a write-down, which forgives some debt while holding him liable for the balance of debt.Arvel and sons
The Glinz family were the epitome of the aggressive farmers in the 1970s.
David’s father, Arvel, bought 4,000 acres in the Jamestown area in 1960. In 1962, he made headlines when he was the first in the nation to buy a John Deere 5010 tractor rated at 117 horsepower — the biggest in its day.
“My dad was always ahead of his time,” David said.
In 1969, Arvel “ran out of cash flow” because of low prices and his appetite for land. Arvel sold his machinery. The bank turned to David, then age 28, to take a loan as primary operator of the 13,000 acres.
He bought two tractors and seeded 13,000 acres by running “night and day” with a 56-foot drill and one field cultivator. In the late 1970s, he’d run 11 combines for the harvest — eight of his own and three from a custom combiner.
In 1974, Russia bought U.S. wheat and prices skyrocketed — for a year. Machinery prices shot up.
In 1982, even as Norwest Bank (later Wells Fargo), put the pressure on, David was still optimistic. He calculated a return from the $4.05 per bushel federal grain loan rate plus a 26.5 cent per bushel annual federal storage payment, and thought the returns would increase from that level.
“In my mind, with inflation, in a year or two down the road, we’d have $4.50 (per bushel) to $4.80 loan rate on wheat.”
Instead of going up under the Reagan administration, the loan rate declined to $3.70 in 1983, $3.30 in 1984 and $2.70 in 1985.‘It was crazy’
Loan interest rates were getting brutal — 10 percent per year on a contract-for-deed but as much as 18 to 20 percent on other loans.
“It was crazy,” David said.
The land value had peaked at $750 an acre and was falling fast. Buyers with the capacity to buy it held back, thinking it would go lower if they waited, and they were right.
A pivotal disaster for the Glinzes happened when Arvel set up Bruce in 2,000 acres in the Hallock, Minn., and Drayton, N.D., area of the northern Red River Valley. The land turned out to be too wet to seed. Without today’s prevent-plant crop insurance, the Glinzes suffered a big loss.
Bruce filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 28, 1983.Glinz, Mutschler show
On March 13, 1983, Arvel staged a tractorcade in Jamestown that made headlines. He fronted it with surrogates who said they were working for “Ralph,” their behind-the-scenes boss.
There were more than 60 tractors and farm vehicles and about 100 farmers in the tractorcade. Arvel, later bankrupted with $13 million in debt, supplied the people to run the machines that circled banks and disrupted business for part of a day.
Maynard Helgaas, a director of Stutsman County Bank, and also the John Deere dealership at the time, confronted the angry farmers at the entrance to the bank. He told the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that the tractorcade borrowed tractors from his dealership for the event. Helgaas is the father-in-law of current North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Five days later, Arvel and his wife filed for bankruptcy.Negotiations
Seeing the money and time that Arvel and Bruce spent in bankruptcy motivated David to stay out of it. But he used the threat of bankruptcy as a negotiating point. Lenders “were always scared that you’d file bankruptcy,” David said, due to high legal costs and dubious returns.
In 1983, David slimmed down to about 32,000 acres and in 1989, too, to the 13,000 acres he farms today.
As “backup plans,” from 1986 to 1991, he attended Jamestown College, thinking he might become an ag banker.
In the 1990s, David tried to right his financial ship by buying into farmer-owned value-added cooperatives that were started to add value to the region’s crops. “The only good one was Dakota Growers Pasta Co.,” he says. “All of the rest of them lost money.”
David and his wife Barbara went into the trucking business, running 12 hopper bottoms from coast to coast. They invested $1.5 million over a five-year period to build more than 4 million bushels of commercially-licensed storage.Ag’s epilogue
Things were different for the Glinzes after the 1980s.
Bruce attempted farming again but died in a car crash on Sept. 16, 1999. Arvel continued in a real estate, owning land around Jamestown that wasn’t developed in his time. He died in August 2010 at age 89.
Barbara, who had been active in the farm, now has Alzheimer’s disease.
In July 2017, a loan officer and accountant from his lending agency met with David and the group strongly told him it was time to pull back on farming.
“It was a wake-up call — tough love,” David said. “I’d been losing money the last few years. It seems like every acre of corn I’m losing money on.”
In March 2018, David sold 1,800 acres off and a line of machinery. He now farms about 11,500 acres. He has gone back to 30-year-old combines — five John Deere 9610s. He shifted to soybeans, which has been a challenge during the Trump tariff and trade wars.
One thing’s for sure, he says, chuckling: he’ll “avoid the temptation” of refinancing his farm this time around.