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?