Family builds $900 million Brazil farming empire after 935% gain
Early bets on Brazil’s agricultural promise have made a third-generation family of German immigrants ultra-wealthy as land values surge and technology drives ever greater gains on crop yields.
The Logemann family, headed by 72-year-old Eduardo Logemann, own 53% of SLC Agricola SA, which counts London hedge fund manager Crispin Odey as its biggest private shareholder.
While the company is little known outside agricultural circles, shares have risen five-fold since its 2007 initial public offering. It oversees the most planted land per year in Brazil — some 670,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) — an area larger than the state of Delaware.
Based in the southern city of Porto Alegre, SLC grows cotton, soybeans and corn on 22 farms across Brazil and owns about a third of the land it plants. That property is valued at $1.9 billion, up 35% in a year, tracking crop prices.
In Brazil, farmers are able to get two harvests a year, with increased use of technology such as drones and the precision use of fertilizer helping boost productivity.
The Logemann family's stake in SLC is worth $895 million, based on current market prices. They also operate a chain of 27 stores that sell John Deere products with revenue in the wholly owned subsidiary expected to reach 2 billion reais ($405 million) this year.
“When you have good profits and pay a good dividend everyone is happy,” Logemann said in an interview at the company’s headquarters. “Our focus isn’t making money on the real estate, it’s operational efficiency in agriculture. It doesn’t mean that we won’t look opportunistically to sell or buy, especially if someone offers a crazy price.”
While investors mostly track the operational side of the business — how much they plant, harvest and sell — the land holdings function as a sort of agricultural real estate unit, whose value isn’t fully booked unless it’s sold due to accounting norms.
Return on equity has averaged 20% for the past five years, Chief Executive Officer Aurelio Pavinato said in an interview. SLC posted record profit in 2022, allowing the company to pay 601 million reais in dividends.
The first Logemann to come to Brazil — Eduardo’s grandfather, Frederico — left from near Bremen, Germany around 1910 to work on a railway project. He later started a business on a plot of land given to him in the rugged far west of Rio Grande do Sul state near Argentina. The area eventually became the city of Horizontina, which today has about 20,000 people and is the birthplace of supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
The first Schneider Logemann Co. (SLC) business was formed in 1945 and sold farming and construction materials. In the 1960s, Jorge, Eduardo’s father, began building a harvesting machine, which eventually led to a joint venture with John Deere in 1979. The US company took a 20% stake for about $7.5 million.
It was around that time that Eduardo began traveling with his father to Brasilia for meetings with government officials, which led to tours in nearby Goias state. A government plan to grow wheat there flopped, but the Logemanns bought a farm that today is among its biggest assets. In the late 1980s, they bought land in the south of Maranhao state when no one was betting on it for agriculture.
When Jorge died in 1987, Eduardo was thrust into the CEO role at the age of 37. His brother, Jorge Luiz, joined him, while three other siblings never became involved but have equal shareholdings.
Eventually John Deere bought another 20% stake in the tractor venture and in 1999, acquired the remaining 60% for an undisclosed amount. With the proceeds, Eduardo purchased more land.
Ahead of the 2007 IPO, Eduardo, who is now chairman, said he was told that no investors were interested in buying shares of an agriculture company in Brazil. Frustrated, he said he went to the country head of JPMorgan Chase & Co. at the time, who agreed to help him. The stock has returned 935% including dividends since the IPO compared with 99% for the Ibovespa stock index.
Logemann said he’s only spoken once to Odey, the London hedge fund manager who owns about 9% of the company, and also sent him an email to thank him for defending the firm against deforestation accusations. SLC was fined several times by regulators over the years for damaging tropical savannah, according to a 2020 story in the Financial Times, which cited an investigation by environmental group Global Witness. Odey told the newspaper that the family runs a clean operation and described the penalties as amounting to “a parking fine.”
SLC’s farms comply with the local environmental regulation, the firm has said, and vowed in 2021 not to clear new lands for agriculture. It’s also involved in a pilot program to leave native forest untouched on one of its farms in Mato Grosso, Pavinato said.
To extract more from the land it has, Jorge Luiz’s 41-year-old son, Frederico, has been charged with overseeing initiatives that includes a venture capital fund to invest in startups. About half of the fund’s $10 million has been deployed in the first three years, Frederico said in an interview.
“We always had size advantages for having large farms but we also had difficulties in terms of how to control a farm that’s 40,000 hectares, 40 kilometers from end-to-end,” Frederico said. “Technology has come to help see all of this in real time and correct things.”
When asked about succession plans for the 78-year company, Eduardo said the 25 or so family members are keen on keeping control.
“They have to be good shareholders,” he said. “To know that the company is a means to survival for them.”