Raising Earnings and Rebalancing Power in Rural America
Getty/VW Pics/Edwin Remsburg
A combine harvests wheat on the eastern shore of Maryland, June 2013.
Introduction and summary
Almost every step of America’s food supply chain has grown more concentrated in the past few decades. From manufacturers of agricultural inputs such as pesticides and equipment to commodity buyers and meat processors, growing corporate power has left relatively small farms and ranches vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of the oligopolies with which they do business. Recent mergers and acquisitions continue the relentless trend toward increasing corporate concentration across many agricultural markets. This report examines two key markets—for corn and soybean seeds and for hogs—and finds evidence that market concentration has resulted in considerable corporate market power, to the detriment of America’s farmers.
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For example, the share of the corn seed market that is controlled by the four largest biotech companies has risen from 50.5 percent in 1988 to 85 percent in 2015. (see Figure 2) Meanwhile, the increase in the price of corn and soybean seeds has outpaced increases in yield. Moreover, spending on research and development (R&D) in the sector seems to be slowing, and farmers face diminished choice in seed.1 Between 1995 and 2011, the cost of purchasing seed to plant one acre of soybeans and corn increased 325 percent and 259 percent, respectively, while yield per acre only increased 18.9 percent and 29.7 percent, respectively.2
Hog farmers face increasing processor buyer power resulting from the twin trends of increasing concentration and the prevalence of production contracts. MORE