Tofteland (Dean) had $253,000 in an account with the brokerage firm, money he planned to use to cover his farm's operating loan. As MF Global went bankrupt last fall, customers' segregated accounts were raided in clear violation of exchange rules. When the dust settled, more than 38,000 MF Global customers -- including thousands of farmers, ranchers and grain operators who used the firm to hold money for transactions on the futures market -- were out more than $1.2 billion.
On a recent February day, Tofteland points to the stirrups hanging in his barn. They've been there since the 1930s, when the first tractor arrived. Nearby, his fields stretch nearly to the horizon.
His seed bill last year was $230,000; fertilizer cost $150,000. In addition to his own land, he farms acreage he rents at a cost of $450,000. He has another $1 million tied up in equipment, plus four full-time employees. "We're talking big numbers, and you're taking all these risks," he says. "And you can get hailed out, droughted out, flooded out at any time."
That's why the MF Global scandal hurt so much: a financial tsunami that nearly wiped everything away. Tofteland had come to rely on the futures market. So eroded is his trust in the system, he hasn't used it since.
He notes he can track a hog from his farm to somebody's table. Yet somehow, he ponders, authorities haven't fully tracked the missing $1.2 billion, or who was behind it.
"It's either ignorance or fraud," he says. "Money doesn't vaporize. If my account is empty, somebody else's is full."
For more, see: Farmer faces planting season with seeds of distrust