KANSAS CITY (B)--Standing before the Grain and Livestock Issues Summit in Des Moines Feb. 28, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge addressed issues of anti-competitive practices, mandatory and retail price reporting, anti-trust investigations, along with the future role of the Packers and Stockyards Administration.
Participants in the summit include attorneys general and agricultural secretaries from Midwest states along with representatives from U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Packers and Stockyards Administration and the Department of Justice.
Citing the historic low pork prices in 1998 and calling for an investigation by USDA, Judge said, "Farmers in Iowa, as well as nationwide, are fighting for economic justice." She added, "The effects of vertical integration, concentration and collusion are unfolding right before our very eyes. It is now normal for farmers to be selling
their outputs to the same firm that provided their inputs. Competition cannot thrive in this environment."
She added that prices paid to farmers fell 36% from 1984 to 1998, while consumer food prices actually increased by 3%. "The farm-to-retail price spread is the question on the minds of producers, industry officials and consumers."
"I believe that what is occurring now in agriculture is a consequence of the merger wave of the 1980s, Judge said. In the past 15 years, concentration in our industry has soared. As Iowa farmers are losing opportunities for business choices, they also are losing opportunity for profit. As the independent producer continues to lose profit, the profit of farm input, marketing and processing companies continues to grow," said Judge.
Judge called for support for Democratic Senators Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota in their pursuit of legislation that would establish a Federal Review Commission to study the nature and magnitude of the concentration in the agricultural industry and make recommendations to ensure a fair and competitive agricultural market place. Judge also applauded the efforts of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, and his legislation that would create the position of an Assistant Attorney General for Rural Affairs whose primary duties would be to investigate vertical integration and concentration in the agricultural community.