Domina calls for reversal of ag industry consolidation
FEBRUARY 20, 2015 7:00 PM • BY NICHOLAS BERGIN | LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR
Agriculture needs a few good heroes willing to stand up to lawmakers and be heard in courts if America wants to address the increasingly consolidated industry and mega companies whose onerous contracts threaten producers, Omaha attorney Dave Domina said Friday.
Domina challenged the University of Nebraska to educate a bold new generation of farmers and ranchers with a speech he titled "Consolidation, Merger, Market Domination and Agriculture’s Changing Face" and delivered on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East Campus.
Nebraska farmers and ranchers have become such a small portion of the state’s 1.8 million population they have been divested of market power and are increasingly losing ground as a political constituency, Domina said.
Nebraska lost about 500 farms and ranches in 2014, falling to 49,100, according to an annual report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The small farm category, those with annual sales of less than $100,000, fell by 800 farms while larger farms, exceeding $100,000 in sales, increased by 300.
Domina said reversing the trend will require creating laws to protect farmers and ranchers or upsetting the status quo enough through the courts system that public policy has to respond.
Holding up a Pioneer corn seed bag, he described how communication between farmers and those who produce critical inputs, like seed companies, have changed drastically.
“We don’t have a producer in Nebraska, we don’t have 10 producers in Nebraska collectively who are big enough to negotiate against that company for different contract terms," Domina said. "We couldn’t take our top 100 producers and have them band together to negotiate for different terms against this company.”
Seed bags from giant ag companies come with legal warnings, and by opening the bag, farmers agree to a lengthy contract (available for review on the Internet) that gives them license for limited use, but not ownership, of the seed, he said.
Domina noted that Nebraska’s largest confined cattle feed lot, Adams Land & Cattle Co., near Broken Bow, has displaced at least 120,000 cattle feeders.
“Some Nebraskans have declared with pride in the last year we’re the largest (cattle on) feed-producing state in the United States, we’re larger than Texas,” he said. "We have fewer than half as many people working in that industry as we had in 2004, except at slaughter plants.”
Producers and feed yards have grown because processors demanded and encouraged it through their business practices, he said. It’s more efficient to work with a single producer or farmer instead of 50 or 100, he said.
He blamed an overemphasis on big production with the consequence of squeezing out the little guy, or those not capitalized well enough, or not quick enough to pick up on new technology, or not nimble enough with a head start from family.
“Diminishing from our midst is a whole kind of citizen, the citizen who is produced on a farm or ranch. That is the vanishing commodity of American agriculture,” Domina said.
“It is happening because our production is matching the demand in the marketplaces it sells to. And we are allowing it to consolidate to the point where we don’t have kids in rural Nebraska.”
Domina graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 1972. He has licenses to practice law in Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan and New York, and has argued in courts across the country. He formed Domina Law Group more than 35 years ago.
His public talk was sponsored by UNL’s School of Natural Resources.