Nebraska State Sen. Merton L. "Cap" Dierks has announced the annual meeting of the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) will be held July 22 and 23, in Kansas City, MO.

The conference will take place at the Embassy Suites-Airport Hotel.

"We recognize that agriculture is at a crossroads," said Senator Dierks. "Consolidations and vertical integration in the food sector is rapidly transforming production agriculture. There are many who question the wisdom of moving toward a food system controlled by a handful of food cartels, in which production and economic decisions affecting the welfare of farmers and ranchers and rural communities are made in corporate boardrooms. This promises to be one of the more robust discussions of the corporatization of agriculture ever assembled."

OCM was formed in 1998 by several state legislators from around the nation. OCM brings together state legislators and other policy makers, academics and rural advocacy groups under an umbrella organization dedicated to the principle of open and competitive markets in agriculture. Legislative members of OCM were instrumental in pushing through legislation in a number of states for mandatory reporting of prices paid under contract production, anti-price discrimination legislation and bans on packer ownership of livestock.

This year's program will feature panel discussions on key issues confronting agriculture today. The OCM program will take an in-depth look at the experience of the poultry industry, which has been completely integrated for nearly three decades. The poultry industry often is advocated as a model for all of agribusiness. The program will closely examine how producers have fared under integrated poultry production systems. Development of bill of rights for producers locked into production contracts will be a key goal of the conference.

A second panel will address whether proprietary research conducted at land-grant institutions is helping to fuel the vertical integration in the agricultural sector. The panel will examine whether changes in the rules for who may patent and license important discoveries with agricultural applications, such as biotechnology, has contributed to privatization of new technologies.

A highlight of the conference will be a discussion between Dr. Steve Sonka, professor of agricultural management, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, at the University of Illinois-Champaign, and Dr. Neil Harl, professor of agricultural economics, at Iowa State University, on the merits of integrated agriculture. Dr. Sonka is chair of the National Research Council Task Force on Precision Agriculture and author of New Industries and Strategic Alliances in Agriculture: Concepts and Cases. Dr. Harl is the author of Long-Term Marketing Contracs with Packers..A Journey Through the Downside and other writing which critically examine corporatizing trends in agriculture.

On Friday, July 21, Senator Dierks will lead a meeting of the OCM Legislative Caucus. Members of the caucus include state legislators from several leading agricultural states. The group will seek to develop a common legislative agenda to pursue at the state level--to improve the welfare of producers, in the face of the rapid consolidation of market power by food processors, and to bolster efforts at the federal level to implement essential market reforms.

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