Always optimistic, family farmers fight for a future | Agricultural News


Even though the cards are often stacked against us, farmers are the best optimists. I’m a fourth-generation cattle and grain farmer, and right now I’m optimistic that for the first time since Teddy Roosevelt with the Packer and Stockers Act of 1921, we have a president trying to tackle the companies control our farm and our food system.

Why is it necessary? JBS, Cargill, Tyson and National Beef (Marfrig) control 85% of the beef market; four meatpackers control 54% of the poultry market; and four meat packers, JBS, Smithfield, Tyson and Hormel control 70% of the pork market. JBS and Marfrig are Brazilian and Smithfield is Chinese.

Recently, JBS paid $52.5 million to settle a price-fixing lawsuit accusing JBS and other meatpacking companies of conspiring to limit supply in order to inflate prices and increase profits. Included in this antitrust litigation are Cargill Inc, National Beef Packing Company and Tyson Foods Inc.

In the seed market, the Big 6 have coalesced into the Big 3 – Monsanto/Bayer is a German company, ChemChina/Syngenta is a Chinese company and Dow/Dupont is a national company.

In fertilizers, Mosaic controls 80% of the phosphorus used in the United States. Phosphate fertilizer costs rose 200%, and Mosaic’s phosphate fertilizer revenue in August was up $200 million from 2020 earnings. CF Industries, which owns three of the top five nitrogen urea plants , had revenue of $1.362 billion for the quarter ending September 30, 2021, a 60.8% year-over-year increase. For the 12 months ending September 30, 2021, CF revenue was $5.1 billion, a 25.28% year-over-year increase. While the market gives to farmers, monopoly control of our inputs takes away from us.

The greatest injustice is seen in beef, and the effect on farmers and consumers is most visible right now. The beef industry is the largest sector of American agriculture. In 1980, the four major meatpackers controlled 36% of the market. Since then, deregulation and lack of enforcement of antitrust laws have resulted in historic concentration in the meatpacking industry.

Public relations firms and ag business lobbyists are blaming the pandemic and rising input costs for rising consumer prices, but, if that were the case, their profit margins would be relatively stable. White House economic advisers recently said that the biggest meat processors, using their market power in the heavily consolidated U.S. market to drive up meat prices, have tripled their own net profit margins since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We need Congress to represent us and pass laws and policies to limit corporate control over the food industry.

For example, the bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act (S. 2716) would require meat to be labeled where it was born, raised, and processed; the “50/14 Spot Market Bill” would require large meat packers to buy 50% of their supply on the spot market and not own the cattle for more than 14 days before processing – this would help prevent packers from meat to be able to manipulate the price of cattle; and, “The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act” (HR 2933 of 2019) would end mega-mergers of food and agribusiness companies.

Additionally, we must strengthen and enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act, which was passed to protect farmers and ranchers from the unfairly discriminatory and monopolistic practices we have today.

—Darvin Bentlage is a member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Golden City, Missouri.


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