I coulda’ been a contender


Rare is the new year that begins without me wondering how I took a wrong turn on the road of life and became a writer rather than a highly paid, universally respected, heaven-bound meatpacking executive.

Of course it wasn’t my fault; my farming parents bear complete responsibility.

Great shortcoming

I mention this great shortcoming on their otherwise loving and/or giving part because of the Dec. 23 news that “Leland Tollett, who left retirement to lead Tyson Foods Inc. out of an industry downturn, earned $533,459 as the company’s interim CEO in 2009, according to an Associated Press calculation of figures filed with regulators.”

Mom, Dad: I coulda’ been that guy. I coulda’ been a poultry pooh bah. Why didn’t you mention the enormous salary to be made running chicken pluckers rather than make me pluck running chickens?

Obviously you were too busy sharing all your attention and affection among the six of us children that you didn’t have time to pick just one — like me — to succeed in an honorable profession such as meatpacking.

Great despair

Your short-sightedness, however, has led to great despair and will likely lead to even greater despair in my retirement — if I’m ever able to retire.

The reason, reports the AP, is plain: “Tollett, 72… will receive $300,000 a year to consult with the company until his death, according to documents filed Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange. If he dies within the first 10 years of the agreement, the payments will be made to his estate, guaranteeing $3 million.”

Three million smackers, dead or alive. You have Social Security, Medicare and my once-a-month telephone call. I have nothing. No one is dropping $300K year into my 401K for just breathing.

Or, as the case may be, not breathing.

Think of it

Farmers and ranchers who send their chickens, cattle and hogs to Tyson from now through Jan. 1, 2020, could be supporting me, vertical or horizontal, in the style I easily would have grown accustomed to.

And all you had to do 40 years ago was pull me aside at the swimming pool/Holstein watering hole and give me the three obvious keys to an almost certain golden future: “Dark meat, white meat, the other white meat.”

But no, you tied me to a herringbone milking parlor and filled me with tired truisms about the “dignity of hard work” and “honest pay for honest work” when the really wonderful parents were teaching their children about collateralized debt obligations and packer contracts.

And don’t say you were too busy with 100 dairy cows, 700 acres, six kids, four hired men and an old uncle that you missed the rise of the corporate cow, sow and plow. I’m sure the Tolletts and Tysons were busy, too, but they didn’t miss the big money train that high-balled past their family farms, did they?

Biggest sorrow

My biggest sorrow, however, is that unlike on the farm, I wouldn’t have had to be even close to good to pack away tons of dough as a packer.

Golly, “For the year, Tyson lost $537 million, or $1.44 per share, compared with a profit of $86 million, or 24 cents per share, the year before.”

Holy dead cow. This guy Tollett “earned” $1,000 for every million dollars in shareholder money he lost and then drilled those happy fools for another 3 million bones over the next 10 years for “consulting.”

See why I’m depressed? I mean the guy lost a half billion bucks in less than 10 months for his company and now he’s the $3 million man for the same company.

I could’ve done that job!

Oh woe is me

Woe, woe is me.


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com



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