The Ferrara Land Reclamation Company

Written by  Eugenio Bolognesi

A short history of the only Italian agricoltural company to be listed on the stock exchange.

The company was established by deed of incorporation in England in 1871 under the name “Ferrarese Land Reclamation Company Limited”. The business purpose was the “reclamation of lakes, the purchase of marshland and lands around Ferrara and in other locations in the Kingdom of Italy, as well as the construction or purchase of canals, waterways, irrigation work, piers, docks, railways, roads, buildings, and railway engines”.

It was authorised to operate in the Kingdom of Italy under the name “Società per la Bonifica dei Terreni Ferraresi” in January 1872. The initial share capital was 8,000,000 gold lire, equal to 8,640,000 paper lire, divided among 500 lire shares. After purchasing over 21,000 hectares of marshland in the lower Ferrara area, the Company quickly set to work on its drainage work, using its own equipment only. The company didn’t show any profit for the first ten years - a time lapse long enough to realise the insurmountable scope of the financial problems involved in the undertaking.

The shareholders’ meeting of 16 September 1882 resolved to liquidate the company, with the Bank of Turin acting as liquidator, as it was the main creditor and subsequently the sole shareholder. But actually the company was never liquidated, the resolution was withdrawn, and the company was re-established. Over time, there were capital increases, purchases and sales. In 1918, about 16,000 hectares were owned with 6,525 hectares of these comprising the estate of Iolanda of Savoia. The amount of owned land increased in 1919 with the purchase of the Mesola estate of about 8,600 hectares. At the beginning of 1926, the managing director at the time, Gino Lisi, who was the majority shareholder, took over chairmanship of the company. He carried out intense, wide-ranging reclamation and agricultural re-organisation, but introduced a more speculative style of management over the whole group. About 4,000 hectares were purchased from the municipality of Comacchio in 1928, comprising the Trebba, Ponti, and Valle Isola marshlands increasing the company land holdings to 25,000 hectares.

The price of land, livestock, and agricultural products continued to fall at this time due to the monetary revaluation of 1927, and then the stock market crashed in 1929 bringing about losses in all the companies involved. Under the chairmanship of the Senator Natale Prampolini, the new Board resolved to transfer the company headquarters from Turin to Rome, merge all the companies into a single entity, and increase the share capital to 50 million lire. The new management therefore issued 200 lire shares, almost all subscribed to by the main creditors, who converted the composition credit into shares: the principal institutions were the Bank of Italy and the Liquidation Institute (later I.R.I.), who had taken over the credit of some banks. In 1942 the Bank of Italy, adding the shares held by I.R.I. to its own portfolio, became the majority shareholder. The company fared badly during wartime. Starting from 1945, the new chairman, Leonardo Albertini, carried out further reclamation work and improvements. The company was hit hard by the land reform law no. 841 of 21 October 1950. This law resulted in over 15,000 hectares of company lands situated in the Ferrara area and Puglia being expropriated at negligible prices. The amount of land owned fell from 27,800 hectares in 1947 to 10,400 hectares at the end of 1954. In 1962, Orfeo Marchetti succeeded Leonardo Albertini as chairman. The following chairman was Vittorio Ciarrocca, who held office between 1967 and 1992, when Cesare Marchetti took over. For a number of years now, the work carried out by the company has been optimised by drawing up three-year business plans, which hadn’t been done before. The chairman, Vincenzo Pontolillo, who succeeded Cesare Marchetti in 2004, considers them essential as a guide to the various companies in the group. The guidelines to emerge in these planning instruments encourage more careful consideration of the land organisation and irrigation techniques, modern fruit-growing, attentive preservation of building assets, and in general the re-establishment and expansion of productive capacity.



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