Workshops to stimulate American Agriculture

A series of workshops throughout the coming months will feature discussions about competition and regulatory issues in agriculture.

These all-day forums, sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Justice (DOJ), were first announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack Aug. 5, 2009.

"In my travels across the country, I hear a consistent theme: producers are worried whether there is a future for them or their children in agriculture, and a viable market is an important factor in what that future looks like," said Vilsack. "These issues are difficult and complex, which is why this is so important and long overdue."

According to a USDA-issued news release, five workshops will promote dialogue among interested parties and foster learning with respect to the appropriate legal and economic analyses of these issues, as well as to listen to and learn from parties with experience in the agriculture sector.

Workshops involve farmers, ranchers, processors, consumer groups, agribusinesses, government officials and academics. This collection of stakeholders will create a forum for discussion and will ensure various industry perspectives.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock spoke about the scope of the workshops.

"Agriculture ranks as one of the top sectors of most state economies. And while the agricultural heritage of each of our states differs—sometimes dramatically—the concerns about market concentration, transparency and effective regulation cross geographical boundaries, and are shared concerns irrespective of the crops we produce and the animals we raise."

The first workshop, held March 21 in Ankeny, Iowa, focused on “issues of concern to farmers,” including seed technology, vertical integration, market transparency and buyer power.

Brownfield posted audio from the first workshop featuring its opening commentators.

All meetings are free and open to the public. There is time allotted for public testimony at the conclusion of the workshops.

Upcoming workshops:
  • Poultry industry – May 2, in Normal, Ala. – Attention will be given to production contracts in the poultry industry, concentration and buyer power.
  • Dairy industry: June 7, in Madison, Wis. – Specific areas of focus may include concentration, marketplace transparency and vertical integration in the dairy industry.
  • Livestock industry: August 26, in Fort Collins, Colo. – Specific areas of focus will address beef, hog and other animal sectors and may include enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and concentration.
  • Margins: December 8, in Washington, D.C. – Discussions may be about discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers; discussions from previous workshops will be incorporated into the analysis of agriculture markets nationally.
  • Each workshop is designed to highlight the management issues facing a particular agriculture sector.

“According to many farmers and ranchers, the DOJ and USDA workshops are long overdue as an essential step to address concentration of ownership within agriculture,” stated the Kansas Rural Center.

Many in the industry consider the workshops the government’s renewed commitment to strengthening one of its premier industries, while others think that they are the first steps to moderating “Big Ag.” Holder noted that some farmers are “suffering from a lack of free and fair competition in the marketplace.”

Vilsack commented that insights gleaned from the workshops would be used in consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill. Lessons learned will be used to structure broad policies rather than develop a massive oversight system. Government officials were quick to note that potential anti-competitive practices are being studied and antitrust regulations will continually be further enforced.

“‘This is not just about farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “It’s really about the survival of rural America.”

Is the format of the meetings conducive to change? Should other topics be addressed and discussed?

*Photo obtained from

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