You’d think the nation’s biggest privately held company might have an identity crisis, but the Minnesota firm behind much of what you eat is very comfortable in its own skin, so to speak.
Thirty miles outside Minneapolis, the only structures interrupting miles of waist-high corn are a few long buildings covered in white siding. Those structures belong to Cargill—the $115 billion-in-sales agricultural giant that has topped Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies for 28 of the past 30 years—and they house one of Cargill’s most important projects, writes Chloe Sorvino for forbes.com.
Stretched out along the interior of each building are rows of tanks filled with brackish gray water—and either tilapia or shrimp. Cargill is studying the best way to feed and raise seafood, and the various pools test different conditions, like the creatures’ nutritional requirements at different water temperature and their appetite for insects.
Cargill already touches much of what ends up on your dinner plate. The Minneapolis-based company’s primary business for the past 153 years has been commodities trading—processing, trading, exporting and handling millions of tons of wheat, corn, soybeans, beef, pork and poultry, among other things. But it is well diversified. It does everything from creating emulsifiers for beauty products to manufacturing zero-calorie sweeteners.
From that immense business has come immense wealth: The company’s founding family, the Cargill-MacMillans, collectively share a $49 billion fortune, and at least 25 heirs own around 90 percent of the firm. Fourteen are individual billionaires. (Six members of the clan have spots on the company’s 17-person board, but none have run the business since Whitney MacMillan stepped down in 1995 after a 19-year run as CEO.)
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