Farming has changed significantly since the days of small and diversified farms that widely populated the countryside. Most commercial agriculture is now confined to much larger and more specialized operations. Most of today’s two million or so farms are mainly part-time; many farm families have to rely on off-farm sources for a major portion of their income.
More critically, the economic viability of farmers and ranchers has become increasingly tied to the needs of processors and marketers. In many rural communities, research studies routinely show that there are only a few corporate buyers, or even just one, for a given agricultural commodity, especially in the livestock and poultry sectors. Ranchers and growers also are witnessing the use of unfair production and marketing contracts which prohibit them from using legal measures to increase their bargaining power.
Market Concentration: Leveling the Field
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The concentrated power of processing firms increases their ability to unfairly manipulate markets effectively – eliminating free market competition to the detriment of family farmers and consumers. This control eliminates market transparency and creates an environment where many farmers and ranchers face price discrimination as a result.
Congress should not let another farm bill go by without addressing its legislative responsibilities for the Packers and Stockyards Act and Agricultural Fair Practices Act. A critical role of government is to facilitate properly operating markets and ensure balance in the economic relationships among farmers, ranchers, consumers and food companies.
Congress has a choice: Our representatives can choose to champion a strong, comprehensive Competition Title and begin to return fairness to agricultural markets. Or they can stand by and watch the balance of control tip further toward agribusiness corporations.
Citizens must ask: Who do we want controlling our food supply? The choice between a few multinational corporations reaping all the profits or a multitude of family farmers and ranchers thriving throughout the countryside seems evident.