Doing things in a big way hasn't added up to big profits

One man grew up in England, helping raise sheep on his family's farm. The other man grew up on a horse farm in Kentucky, where his father was manager. Today, James Pleydell-Bouverie and Robert P. Green manage some 80,000 acres of agricultural land in Georgia. They do things in a very big way.

Instead of a kitchen table cluttered with record books, they have a two-story , yellow house here that has been converted to an office and equipped with computers, a telex machine, and about a dozen employees. They monitor commodity prices and crop-growing results and experiments, calculate anticipated costs, and negotiate contracts.

Instead of a farmer and his sons working their own land, they have hired more than 125 people.

In an interview in the house-turned-office (Mr. Pleydell-Bouverie lives upstairs), the partners explained why they got into farm management on a big scale:

''Basically, we both started off on farms as tractor drivers,'' said Mr. Pleydell-Bouverie, an Englishman. ''I wanted to broaden my horizons and challenges to farm more than just one operation.''

''I like to develop things,'' Mr. Green said. And, he added, he enjoys the ''challenge'' of farm management on a large scale. Neither man had complaints; both said they expect to expand operations.

About 75 percent of their clients are Americans; the others are from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Holland, and South Africa.

Last year the firm's managed cropland brought in about $15 million in gross sales, about $500 an acre. But with expenses, they just about broke even, says company official R.E. Weber. Their profit margin on cropland has been only about 3 to 5 percent a year; expected increases in land value is the main incentive for the investors, he explains. But land values have declined ''significantly'' over the past three years.

Sizing up US farms

Yearly gross sales No. of % of % of total US (thousands of dollars) farms total farm production Under $10 1,178,000 48 4 Total 2,436,000 100 100 Source: US Department of Agriculture (1981)

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