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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monsanto Monopoly Stifles Seed Innovation

Hey, Dr. Chicoine! Pass this on at the next Monsanto board meeting!

A couple weeks ago, I gave ag-industry propagandist Troy Hadrick grief for a blog post titled "Uniting Agriculture." The Daily Yonder suggests that the problem with agriculture is that the industry is far too united, behind a few corporate players who dominate every part of the market, including seed engineering. The Yonder crew share excerpts of "Out of Hand," a new report from the National Family Farm Coalition's Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering.

Why should you be alarmed? Simple economics—monopolies are bad:

The concentration of economic power in agriculture has led to grave consequences for American farmers and rural communities. Today, reduced competition in agricultural markets means farmers face increasingly high input prices and diminished choice and innovation....

For example, four firms control more than 80 percent of beef packing; three firms control about 70 percent of soybean crushing; and three firms handle 55 percent of flour milling. Farms themselves have quickly consolidated since the 1930s. The number of farms has decreased over the years, while the size of farms and the average age of farmers have steadily increased....

Input industries are included in the trend and in fact demonstrate even higher levels of concentration in some sectors. Six companies account for 75 percent of the agricultural chemical market worldwide.

The seed industry is one of the most concentrated in agriculture. The top four firms account for 43 percent of the global commercial seed market, which includes both public and proprietary varieties sold. They also account for 50 percent of the global proprietary seed market. (The term proprietary refers to branded seed subject to intellectual property protections.)

The prevailing leader, the Monsanto Company, accounts for about 60 percent of both the U.S. corn and soybean seed market through subsidiaries and technology (i.e., genetically engineered traits, such as Roundup Ready and Bt) licensing agreements with smaller companies. When looking specifically at genetically engineered traits in the U.S., more than 90 percent of the soybean and cotton acreage, and more than 80 percent of corn acreage, is planted with one or more of Monsanto’s traits.

Under the hegemony of Monsanto and the ag-industrial complex, life itself becomes a patentable commodity. The intellectual property purists will contend that patents on seed DNA allow biotech companies to protect investment and thus incentivize innovation. But the Farmer to Farmer Campaign finds this privatization of research and consolidation of the seed industry has actually reduced innovation:

Utility patents have not spurred innovation in plants. In fact, the opposite seems true, as evidenced by USDA reports that document a downward trend: “Calculations for corn, soybeans, and cotton indicate that as the seed industry became more concentrated during the late 1990s, private research intensity dropped or slowed.” As opposed to driving innovation, utility patents on plants have provided an incentive to expand control over genetic resources, limit access to them, and make access expensive.

The number of independent seed companies, especially small, family-operated businesses and research firms, has dramatically declined over the last few decades. As mentioned earlier, the Independent Professional Seed Association says there are only about 100 independent seed companies left, compared to more than 300 total (independent and consolidated) thirteen years ago.

But all that genetically engineered seed is feeding the world, right? Monsanto's glyphosate (a.k.a. Round-Up™) is the best thing to happen to farming in the last hundred years, isn't it?

...Glyphosate-resistant weeds are now established in 19 states and deemed a serious economic problem, at times adding more than $20 per acre. Weed specialists refer to resistant weeds as a “train wreck” making their way across the country.

...Some of the worst resistance is found in pigweed (Palmer amaranth). Resistant pigweed now infests hundreds of thousands of acres in the Southeast. For example, 70 to 80 percent of Macon County, Georgia, dubbed the “epicenter” of glyphosate-resistant Pigweed, is infested with the weed, and farmers were forced to abandon 10,000 acres in 2007.

Purdue University weed scientist Bill Johnson explains that, “Farmers do not think resistance is a problem until they actually have it.” Johnson points out that new innovation and choice in herbicides has diminished over the years, so farmers have fewer chemical options. He says farmers “think the chemical companies can turn on the spigots and produce a new herbicide whenever they want.” But with Roundup’s success, money has not been invested in new herbicide research.

Troy Hadrick calls for "uniting agriculture," but you don't hear him uniting with his fellow farmers who issued this report on the dangers of seed consolidation. Hadrick's Farm Bureau party line has no room for real grassroots campaigns to protect independent farming. Hadrick only has blog ink for Ag Inc.

That's the "united agriculture" Troy Hadrick is fronting. That's the "united agriculture" that drives up costs, stifles innovation, and puts more independent family farms out of business.

Monsanto and its monopolists want serfdom. Where's Tsar Alexander II when you need him?


  1. So what do we do about this monsan-opolization? I've read about North Dakota farmers who've united against buying Monsanto products, but how might a group of progressives in our state organize farmers on such a wide scale? Could it work county-by-county? I wouldn't even know where to start in Brookings County!
    -Steve Binkley

  2. Hi, Steve! Good questions. I see that our own Dakota Rural Action is part of the National Family Farm Coalition; maybe they could serve as an organizing point for such a united buying effort? But I wonder: is there enough non-Monsanto product out there for all potential buyers?

  3. Monsanto rules the world.

  4. This is a textbook example of fascism in America today. Monsanto is a function of "Progressive's Big Government". Dakota Rural Action is part of the problem as they are part of the government's central planning agenda. Again, I recommnet Tim Carney's Obamanomics to understand how the lobbyists of Big Corporations are in control of government. As the government grows and takes more control over us, the big corporations benefit.

    We agreed a while back that farm subsidies help the big guy, and at the expense of the little guy. The solution is returning America back to the Natural Law foundation that includes a limited government that does not interfere with free markets, but instead protects the free market from corruption. Unfortunately, today's government is part of the corruption.

  5. well you have another choice:

    read up honey bee database on sustainable agricultural innovations available at sristi.org and honeybee.org

    use thes eopen source example of framer based solutions to your problems, try these out and write to us.

    for example in cotton grow ladys finger around cotton crop as border crop, it belongs to the same family. it will attract pests and save cotton. if the problem still remains, spray one kilogram of jaggery ( raw sugar0 mixed in 15 litres of water. black ants would come and eat away the eggs of harmful pests. pl try, it costs so little even if you fail. but if you succeed, your blessings will be our reward.

    keep it up

    seeds, in guajart, farmers made their own Bt cotton by crossing the parent lines with local varieties. in India, there is no patent on gene and hence no body can do anything about it.

    anil gupta

    anilgb @ gmail.com, anilg at sristi.org

  6. I like the idea of individuals doing the right thing as the solution, instead of relying of the government, which only makes problems worse. For example if the practices produce less yield, the government subsidized giants will eat us alive.

  7. Steve Sibson12/25/2009 7:04 PM

    Guess who benefits if the Cap-and-trade legislation is passed? That's right...Monsanto. The legislation includes offsets for "no-till" and Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" seeds can withstand the heavy herbicide doses no-till requires. Got that fact from Carney's Obamanomics, Page 111.

  8. one thing about this issue is that it is bi-partisan...in an interview with Jeffrey Smith author of "Seeds of Deception" in the always excellent Acres/USA magazine this month, he says that the Obama administration has a complete biotech stance (as did Bush and Clinton and Bush and Reagan.
    Obama has put Michael Taylor, from Monsanto, back in the FDA, and someonr from the Danforth Foundation ( a group close to Monsanto) in charge of a new dept in the USDA, They are also proposing a VP of CropLife the biotech industry's trade organization to be the U.S. ag negotiator. According to Smith, Obama promotes GMOs even more than the Bush administration, who were big boosters of Monsanto ad nauseam. This is one placeI had high hopes for the Obama administration.
    I believe it will ultimately be the informed consumer that will make a difference. If everyone who read this, called, wrote or e-mailed one or two companies and informed them that they were concerned about GMO products in their food, that would end things for Monsanto in a hurry.
    Joelie Hicks

  9. Steve Sibson12/26/2009 6:56 AM


    Thanks for the information. I have ordered Smith's book. Based on reviews, it seems to collaborate Obamanomics. And I do agree that this is bipartisan. Americans have become lazy and allowed the corrupt to have control.

  10. Tell me about this Obamanomics book, please.

  11. I found the reports on pigweed infestation pretty darn humorous--there they are, hand-chopping these resistant weeds in their fields when they should have been eating them instead of spraying them. Amaranth is an incredibly nutritious crop--both the leaves of young plants and the grain of the mature plant.


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