The U.S. Departments of Justice and USDA have announced a series of workshops aimed at exploring the issues of consolidation, reduced competition and increased regulatory involvement in the agriculture industry.
The workshops, which will begin with an all-day event in Ankeny, Iowa, in March, will address a number of topics, including discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers, according to officials with USDA and DOJ.
The schedule of workshops:
• March 12, 2010: Issues of Concern to Farmers — FFA Enrichment Center, Ankeny, Iowa.
• May 21, 2010: Poultry Industry — Alabama A&M University, Normal, Ala.
• June 7, 2010: Dairy Industry — University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.
• Aug. 26, 2010: Livestock Industry — Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.
• Dec. 8, 2010: Margins — USDA, Washington, D.C.
Farm leaders have claimed that the trend toward increasing consolidation in farm input suppliers, cotton and grain merchandising firms and processors have put producers at a severe economic disadvantage.
“The agriculture industry has consolidated to the point where family farmers, independent producers and other smaller market participants do not have equal access to fair and competitive markets,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. “Increased concentration in agriculture will lead to fewer product choices and higher product prices for the American consumer.”
Grassley said the Food and Energy Conservation Act of 2008 included a positive step toward competition, based on legislation he sponsored. But the lawmaker has reiterated the need for additional action on the part of the federal government.
“Iowa is one of the leading agricultural states with a large number of family farmers. This makes it a prime location to hear directly from farmers who are being impacted by possible anti-competitive behavior,” he said.
“The workshops should address the complexities of competition in agriculture markets, including monopsony and vertical integration. (A monopsony is a market situation in which one buyer exerts a disproportionate influence on the market.) This will give farmers, consumers, and agribusinesses the opportunity to provide examples of potentially anticompetitive conduct and to discuss any concerns about the application of the antitrust laws to the agricultural sector.”
The March 12 event in Ankeny, Iowa will serve as an introduction to the series of workshops, but also will focus specifically on issues facing crop farmers. Specific areas of focus may include seed technology, vertical integration, market transparency and buyer power.
The May 21 workshop in Normal, Ala., will address production contracts in the poultry industry, concentration and buyer power.
The June 7 event in Madison, Wis., will focus on concentration, marketplace transparency and vertical integration in the dairy industry.
The Aug. 26 workshop in Fort Collins, Colo., will address beef, hog and other animal sectors and may include enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and concentration.
The Dec. 8 event in Washington, D.C., will look at the discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers. As a concluding event, discussions from previous workshops will be incorporated into the analysis of agriculture markets nationally.
Each workshop may feature keynote speakers, general expert panels, and break-out panels that will address more narrowly-focused issues. At each workshop, the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and provide comments.
The attendance and participation of the public is encouraged throughout the series of workshops. With the goals of generating further dialogue and understanding the issues, the workshops will involve farmers, ranchers, processors, consumer groups, agribusinesses, government officials, and academics. This collection of stakeholders will create a forum for discussion and will ensure various industry perspectives.
The Department of Justice and USDA are also asking for comments in advance of the workshops. Interested parties should submit written comments in both paper and electronic form to the Department of Justice no later than Dec. 31, 2009. All comments received will be publicly posted. Two paper copies should be addressed to the Legal Policy Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001. The electronic version of each comment should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional updates and information, including agendas and speakers, will be posted on the Antitrust Division's events Web site at www.usdoj.gov/atr/events.htm.