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Farmers across the country, both organic and conventional, overwhelmingly oppose the proposed Bayer-Monsanto merger. A new poll and white paper released last month found that over 93 percent of farmers surveyed are concerned that the proposed merger will negatively affect independent farmers and farming communities.
Farmers already struggle with declines in income combined with increased expenses, and their income is only expected to fall further over the coming decade. Unable to make a living farming, farmers are leaving their land or turning to outside jobs.
Some people would argue that this is simply progress—that, while it’s unfortunate to see independent American farmers move on to other jobs, it’s part and parcel of making our system more efficient, keeping food prices low for American consumers.
But is it really a sign of progress? Actually, it’s a symptom of massive corporations exerting unfair market control that harms not only the farmers but all Americans. Without our farmers, we have to rely on other countries such as China and Mexico for a basic necessity of life. Whether you are concerned about labor abuses, food safety or simply correct labeling, relying on foreign countries for our food seems like a poor choice. Ultimately, having a stable domestic food supply is a national security issue. The Bayer-Monsanto merger would further consolidate the agrichemical and seed markets, thus threatening not only farmers’ livelihoods but all of us.
Consider what’s already happened, even without this proposed merger. Between 1994 and 2010, farmers’ costs for seeds went up far faster than the prices they received. Prices for crop seeds more than doubled relative to the prices farmers received for those same crops. According to the newly released survey, over 80 percent of farmers say they have been paying higher prices, and 64.8 percent report having less bargaining power for seeds and chemicals.
While the seed companies often argue that the price hikes are justified by increases in productivity, they haven’t shown a doubling of productivity under real-world conditions. Indeed, three-quarters of the respondents in the recent survey stated that the increased prices for new seed varieties have not been offset by increased productivity when it comes to field crops (and almost two-thirds said that with respect to seeds in general).
Rather, the companies are able to keep increasing seed prices thanks to their unfair market control. Prior to 2017, the six biggest agricultural companies controlled 75 percent of the global agrochemical market, 63 percent of the commercial seed market and more than 75 percent of all private sector research on seeds and pesticides.
Now, with the recently approved merges between Dow and DuPont and Syngenta and ChemChina, if the Bayer-Monsanto merger goes through, just four companies will effectively control all seed and agricultural chemicals, research and supplies.
If Bayer and Monsanto merge, the new company alone would be the world’s largest vegetable seed company, the world’s largest cottonseed company, the world’s largest manufacturer and seller of herbicides, and the world’s largest owner of intellectual property/patents for herbicide-tolerant traits. Farmers have good reason to be concerned that if this merger goes through, the number and quality of their options for seeds and inputs will be further limited while their prices increase.
The survey findings are consistent with a study conducted by the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M. Researchers warned of the consequences of the merger on the cotton industry and predict that the Monsanto-Bayer merger would substantially increase seed prices for cotton. Paired with the recent Dow-DuPont merger the combined effect of the two mergers, according to the study, “would cause the following expected increases in seed prices: 2.3 percent for corn, 1.9 percent for soybeans, and 18.2 percent for cotton,” with a 25 percent chance that prices would increase “2.6 percent for corn, 2.1 percent for soybeans, and 20.2 percent for cotton.” U.S. farmers cannot absorb these price increases.
Organic farms would face particular problems from the merger. Organic farmers must generally buy organic seed in order for their crops to be USDA certified, but many producers have to use non-organic seed given the very limited organic seed supply, a practice that is allowed when organic seed is not commercially available. Even when using non-organic seed, however, it cannot have any genetically modified traits, nor can the seed be chemically treated. In addition, because organic farmers cannot use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, the seeds they grow must be adapted to their particular environmental conditions. Without a competitive seed market, organic farmers are unlikely to be able to find seeds that have not been treated with pesticides, that do not have GM traits, and that are well-suited for their growing conditions.
Further, all farmers, and especially organic farmers, will have fewer options for germplasm for breeding and seed production. For example, of the over 1,900 hybrid lines available, no more than 8 percent are available to farmers in a non-GM and untreated form. This data is consistent with farmer concerns. According to the new survey, 69.6 percent of farmers report that seed genetics have stayed the same or diminished.
In addition, 44.7 percent of conventional field crop farmers reported that one or more of their seed retailers or distributors have switched to offering seed from only one manufacturer. The bottom line is that farmers will have fewer options and access to independent breeding and seed production as a result of the merger. And consumers will have fewer food options but at a higher price.
The Department of Justice is reviewing the proposed Bayer-Monsanto merger. While the DoJ process is conducted behind closed doors, the various states attorney general have access to the discussions, and we know several are already engaged with DoJ in this review. Make your voice heard by contacting your state’s attorney general, and your U.S. representatives and senators, to express your concerns about the continued consolidation of the agricultural industry.
It is time for our leaders to listen to the overwhelming number of farmers that are opposed to this merger and work together to protect our rural economies, farmers and communities by stopping this merger immediately. Any proposed divestiture or behavioral remedies will not go far enough to give farmers the options, choices and competitive market that they already lack—conditions that will only get worse with any merger, whether complete or partial. The only answer to this merger is a clear and resounding no.