Letter from Langdon: The Farmer’s Friend

[imgbelt img=Balto.jpg]During a recession, with most prices stable, Monsanto raises the cost of its soybean seed by as much as 42%. That tells you a little about how things work in the food business.


week’s meeting held by Organization for Competitive Markets in St Louis, where the issue of agricultural market concentration drew the attention of farmers and government regulators. 

Since then, Monsanto announced that seed prices are going up again, based on demand. Of course, anytime someone controls most of a market, demand is always good for them. 

Monsanto said that seed prices are headed to about $74 for an acre of Roundup Ready 2 soybeans, a price hike of as much as 42 percent. (Monsanto explains it’s really not that much.)

Food, Inc.  Moe isn’t acting on screen when he tells about being sued for what Monsanto said was illegally enticing farmers to plant patented seeds. Other seed producers and cleaners were in St Louis to tell of being “warned” about the consequences of their actions. 

If Monsanto really doesn’t control the market, why do they sue seed cleaners, the guys that make a living visiting farms to help their friends, the farmers, prepare their grain for use as seed?

Well, it’s because intimidation is a big part of market control.

The truth is that in its fairly short history of being a seed seller, Monsanto has purchased more than fifty seed businesses. Some of them were big players. If nothing else, that’s proof that any corporation can become whatever they can buy. 

Solutia now that its liabilities have disappeared, and it has emerged from bankruptcy with a clean balance sheet and stronger profits, just like its parent company Monsanto.

That might be a good strategy for the farmers who’ve been threatened and sued by Monsanto, except once a family farm disappears it’s pretty hard to come back as something else.

For most farmers, the greatest benefit of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans has been weed control. Now pests for both crops, once held at bay by crop rotation, overwinter in fields where volunteer crops survive the following year. That means higher herbicide costs, more insect pressure — and higher profits for our friends in the seed and chemical business.

In a November 2008 paper, Jack Kloppenburg, a rural sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes, “Who controls the seed gains a substantial measure of control over the shape of the entire food system.” Kloppenburg goes on to state that for true food sovereignty, control of genetic resources must be wrested from corporations and governments and returned to the public, for the public good.

It’s not just seeds, but all of agriculture that needs a makeover. Small dairy and pork producers continue to lose money even as corporate food processing profits are rising. Pork producers like David Ketsenburg of Monroe City, Missouri, struggle daily with markets that are becoming less and less farmer-friendly. Even some large farms struggle.

But vertically integrated corporations that produce and market food directly not only control markets, but the direction profits flow.

Right now those profits are flowing away from farms into some pretty big pockets.

That brings up another of Aesop’s fables, the one about the wolf in sheep’s clothing: the power of large corporations to steer public debate about such things as sustainable food production and control the standards for organic products. They make food appear to be something they produce in a friendly partnership with family farmers.

It’s not.

Really understanding the products in those heavily advertised, plastic wrapped packages of food is tough to do, especially when big profits are more important than little people.

But here’s something that most people should understand: Next year, farmers who buy all their seeds from Monsanto could easily pay more to Monsanto for seed than the profit they, the farmers, hope to earn.

With friends like that, who needs enemies?