New campaign aims to take bite out of big agriculture

Mike Moen
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

JAMESTOWN -- Actions continue in Washington, DC, to address longstanding market fairness issues within agriculture, but those behind a new campaign do not want progress derailed in helping smaller farmers in North Dakota and elsewhere.

The National Farmer's Union is out with its new Fairness for Farmers campaign, which aims to keep market concentration issues out in the open.

A main area of concern has been cattle, with four companies able to purchase and process roughly 80% of beef in America.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said many farmers west of the Mississippi River are still reeling from drought conditions, and policymakers cannot leave them behind right now.

"By taking a bite out of consolidation, then the meatpacking industry hopefully can start on moving towards addressing other anticompetitive behavior that has come to dominate every sector of the ag industry and give an advantage back to the family farmers and ranchers of this nation," Tester stated.

In July, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling on many levels of government to better enforce laws against anticompetitive behavior, including ag consolidation.

Congress is considering several bills, such as one that deals with truth in labeling. There is also an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the "Big Four" meatpacking companies.

A key industry group has pushed back against the efforts, saying they will lead to unintended consequences for customers and producers.

Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, said collectively, the actions could eventually force some of the firms who have long dominated the beef industry to loosen some of their grip.

"I think there is a potential that they'll be forced to sell off some plants because they have just a little bit too much control," Watne asserted.

Among other things, the campaign renews calls for more small, local meat plants. Watne acknowledged forcing the main companies to minimize their presence is still some time from happening, noting follow-through from policymakers is needed, for it to reach a realistic outcome.