Morning Farmer Panel at Department of Justice hearing on competition in agriculture

Two great presentations from Eric Nelson (cattle and corn farmer from IA) and Jim Foster (independent hog farmer from Missouri). With a couple good mentions from Ken Fawcett.

Nelson hits hard on the patents restricting competition, points out studies that show that increased use of ROundup is damaging soils and increasing soil diseases, bemoans the loss of public sector research, and quotes Thoreau that a corporation has no conscience. 

Points out that  there has been a 153% increase in input (seed, fertilizer, herbicides) costs for farmers with a 20% increase in yields is what farmers – and that this is a result of consolidation and points out that farmers are not getting value worth increased costs. Rebuts Pam Johnson who claims that nothing is broken and that the biotech companies are only delivering new value. Keeps pushing the loss of land grant universities serving the needs of small and medium sized farmers. Says it’s imperative we address this. 
Ken Fawcett says “Farmers need opportunity to grow what they want to. And consumers should get to choose what they want and not what corporations tell them they should have.
Eddie Wise – ex-green bere (27 years) who returned to North Carolina to farm. Grew up on a share cropping hog operation. Now wants to have his own independent operation. Struggling to find the capital for his processing operation. 
Foster says we need to see that “too big to fail” failed, that the system is not only cracked but broken. Paints a picture of how he has watched a vibrant rural economy become into collapsed silos, weedy abandoned fields, and rusted equipment. Points out specific sections of antitrust law that have been violated in packer ownership of animals. Points out America has  deficit in ag – importing more than we export. Points out that Chicago style economics have failed us in multiple sectors. Says we need logical limits on farm payments to restrict growth that gives unfair advantage. Govt guaranteed loans favor farmers who have massive contracts with the likes of Cargill and Tyson, not his kids who want to run medium sized farms.
Says since 1980, in the US, we have lost
91% of hog operations
60% of cattle
80% of dairy 
Crowd very fired up after Jim talks. Two rounds of applause. 
Pam Johnson and Todd Wiley – both big producers (and Pam with a seed company that sells Monsanto products)  keep repeating that the system is basically fine. Pam thinks we need to all get along and stop bashing poor old biotech. Says she “used to be small too” and so she “understands” the struggles of folks like Eddie, Jim, and Eric. Pam says GMOs  “makes agronomic and economic sense” and believes price reflects the valu. sees a robust competitive marketplace in the 5 companies providing biotech traits. 
Vilsack says – 900,000 of americas 2.2 million farmers have to work 200 days off the farm to keep the farm, along with loss of farms – he questions if we have the right mix of companies serving farmers. Concerned that we don’t and that farmers will keep disappearing and that this is a crisis. Asks what we have to do to reverse the trends of abandoning farms.
Concluding comments from Christine Varney (Ass Att Gen):  Joint task force between usda and DOJ to enforce packers and stockyard act is needed. She’ll send lawyers DOJ way – Vilsack agrees to this here and now. They want to look for these places where DOJ and USDA intersect. 
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