Thursday, July 11, 2019

Big Ag

Less than 15 cents of your food dollar now goes to American farmers.

Two giants now control 60% of all raw milk processed nationwide in the US— a concentration that works to suppress the farm price of milk. But the processor monopoly is more severe than that number suggests. Because of rigged marketing rules and the perishable nature of milk, farmers sell regionally, and these markets are even more locked down by the Big Two. The largest — Dean Foods, an $8 billion behemoth — controls 90% of dairy markets in Wisconsin and Michigan, 70% in New England and 70-90% in several other states.

The Big Four processing/marketing giants control production of 55% of all turkeys, 59% of chickens, 66% of hogs, 70% of soybeans, 80% of corn and 84% of beef.

Two corporations (John Deere and CNH Industrial) control nearly half the U.S. farm machinery market. Aside from price, these manufacturers gouge farmers with such devious ploys as prohibiting them or local shops from repairing their own machines. Instead, the companies mandate expensive, time-wasting reliance on often distant dealerships.

In 1996, farmers (and gardeners) could buy from some 600 independent seed companies in the U.S. By 2009, only 100 remained. By 2016, just ten corporations controlled 75% of the global seed market. And in the short time since, a series of megamergers has essentially eliminated the competition: Dow Chemical took over DuPont; ChemChina swallowed Syngenta, the Swiss biotech conglomerate; Germany’s BASF bought out multiple seed producers; and Bayer, the voracious German colossus, has been allowed to consume Monsanto. Today, two-thirds of the world’s crop seed supply is controlled by only four private entities — with Bayer controlling a quarter to a third of the global seed market. In just two decades, U.S. farmers have seen the price of seeds for major row crops nearly quadruple, even as the pay they receive for raising those crops has plummeted.

They’ve genetically tampered with seeds to make corn, soybeans and other crops withstand heavy applications of toxic, weed-killing chemicals. And who are the biggest peddlers of these chemicals? The seed monopolists. (Bayer sells $12 billion in ag chemicals, 21-22.9% of the global agrichemical market.) Thus, farmers are now doubly squeezed by higher-priced patented seeds and by the cost of the expensive chemicals they require. Meanwhile, the seed monopolists prohibit farmers from saving seeds from this year’s crop to plant next year’s (a practice as old as agriculture). It’s a deliberate restraint of trade that shackles farmers to abusive corporate masters, nature to ever-more-toxic pesticide regimens and humanity to monocultures vulnerable to pandemic crop disease and climate change.

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