April 24, 2017
Five of the ‘Big 6’ agricultural corporations looking to merge
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Green corn plants.Sunrise over the field.
Mergers between five of the "Big Six" agricultural chemical and seed corporations — Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Pioneer; ChemChina and Syngenta; Bayer and Monsanto — are raising concerns for farmers nationwide. These leading companies control more than 60 percent of the market for seeds, pesticides and herbicides worldwide.
"If these posed mergers work like all of the past ag supply mergers that we have already experienced, it will mean that we have fewer choices in the market place," said John Hansen, Nebraska Farmers Union president. "Less competition has always meant fewer buyer choices and higher prices for farmers. I don’t know of any merger, ever, in the last 40 years that has produced a benefit to a farmer."
Husker Harvest Days drew 70 independent seed corn companies in the 1970s, today, there are barely a handful left, Hansen added. On that same token, Newman Grove, Neb., cooperative bought Hansen’s corn for $3.30 per bushel in 1973, today’s prices fluctuate 10 to 20 cents around that same price.
"What we now have is production costs for an an acre of corn is over three times what you could have bought land for in 1973 per acre," Hansen said. "How do 2017 input costs work with 1973 output prices? It absolutely does not."
“What we now have is production costs for an acre of corn is over three times what you could have bought land for in 1973 per acre. How do 2017 input costs work with 1973 output prices? It absolutely does not.”John Hansen Nebraska Farmers Union President
ChemChina, a Chinese chemical and seed company, proposed a merger with Syngenta for an estimated $43 billion cash offer. This deal has hit almost immediate road blocks as ChemChina’s subsidiary ADAMA sells generic versions of at least three Syngenta products. This breaches the antitrust law to distinctly prevent mergers with this type of conflict.
"Our antitrust laws need to be updated and our enforcement needs to be brought to levels that it has not seen for a long time for us to try to begin to put competition back into the market," Hansen said. "That is not going to be done by an administration that wants to turn big business loose from government oversight."
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. antitrust law was implemented to "prevent anticompetitive mergers or acquisitions." When transactions are proposed that will effect U.S. commerce, the FTC and Department of Justice review them and have the authority to block deals they believe will "substantially lessen competition." The proposed mergers are going through several approval processes in different countries.
"The reduction in competition that would be brought by a Dow-DuPont merger will result in less innovation, higher prices and less choice for farmers," said Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president during a recorded interview with Andrew Jerome. "The merge of Dow and DuPont, the fourth and fifth largest firms in the country, would give the resulting company about 41 percent of the market for corn seeds and 38 percent of the market for soybean seeds."
The approval process for all three proposed mergers must go through antitrust agencies in Australia, Canada, the European Union, India, Mexico and the U.S., according to the FTC. Transactions are reviewed by competition enforcement agencies in the nations listed with some of the mergers going through far more.
"In both the agricultural supply and processing sectors, we are now facing the most concentrated set of markets that agriculture has seen since the early 1900s, when the antitrust acts were finally implemented," Hansen said. "The continued march towards concentration has certainly not worked well for family farm agriculture."
The FTC is requiring ChemChina to sell ADAMA’s rights of three generic versions of Syngenta products to AMVAC, an agrochemical company based out of California. This will effectively eliminate the direct product conflicts for this merger.
"In the case of the Syngenta merger, you are looking at Chinese government ownership in the marketplace," Hansen said. "The goal of the players is not to encourage competition. Their goal is to get rid of competition, develop market share and then control price margins. That is their internal goal, that’s how they make the most money. When you have a complete antitrust and regulatory meltdown as we have seen at the federal level, this is what happens."
Agricultural producers are the customers of the large corporations currently looking to merge but they are also the sellers of the products to the processing sector of agriculture, Hansen added.
"There is always some concern when consolidation takes place about the competition in the marketplace," said Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau president. "Whether it is with companies that farmers and ranchers buy from or it has to do with companies that they might be selling their product to."
In a statement by Syngenta corporate communications department head, Paul Minehart, Syngenta pledges to continue to be a strong competitor in the market. In addition to promising customers access to the same seed portfolios and crop protection products.
"The function of the marketplace is through competition to discover price and allocate value, that is the proper role of a market," Hansen said. "Our marketing system is no longer competitive so we no longer have real price discovery or fairly allocate value."
Nelson argues the number of players in the marketplace is not going to have as big of an effect on competition as many believe. "That is an assumption that we tend to make when there are fewer players in the market," Nelson said. "It comes back to the importance of these companies continuing to provide the latest technologies to farmers and ranchers." RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES
"If the Dow-DuPont and Bayer-Monsanto mergers were both approved, there would effectively be a duopoly in the corn and soybean seed markets," Johnson said. "Innovation is key to farmers and ranchers’ ability to increase crop production and improve crop quality."
Research in the agricultural industry is key, technology has been one of the biggest factors in increasing production while keeping consumer costs low.
"One thing that we have to remember is that research is extremely expensive and it is very important that we have the newest and latest technology available," Nelson said. "Certainly with some of the difficulties that there are in getting new products approved and how much money that costs, it limits the ability of companies to develop products just because it is so costly."
During the negotiations of these mergers, many of the companies have pledged increasing amounts of funds for new research.
"The way we think about it is that there are certainly two sides to this, the main thing from the chemical company side of it is that we have access to products and research into the new technology," Nelson said. "That’s the other side of it, when these companies come together there are more resources to bring forward in the development of new products and technology."
"Without stand-alone competition between Dow and DuPont incentivizing innovation, farmers profits and consumers access to affordable food are at risk," Johnson said.
The ChemChina-Syngenta merger is expected to be completed in June of 2017. The mergers between Dow-DuPont and Bayer-Monsanto are anticipated to be completed late this fall or in 2018. ❖
— King is a freelance writer from Oakland, Neb., and a graduate student at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She can be reached at lindsay.v.king.