The Kansan: We need to listen to Democrat Jon Tester

by Kansan Editorial Board

This week a Democrat from Montana has been demanding, and getting, a little bit of attention.

And it is attention that Kansas needs him to get.

Senator Jon Tester has been talking about agriculture, and pushing legislation designed to diversify agriculture and protect the family farm.

He, and a bi-partisan group of senators, want to slow down the monopolization of food production. We had better start paying attention. We all know how many winners there are in a game of Monopoly.

The bills he has been pushing, a transparency bill aimed at corporate producers and bill designed to put more teeth in the 1921 meat packers act, have been created by members of both political parties.

Combine that with funding approved earlier this year to help start up new food processing operations, there could be more competition in the marketplace.

Competition that is very, very needed.

Tester is a farmer when at home in Montana, operating a family farm that has become much to rare. In the past 30 years, the United States has lost more than 345,000 farms.

Small producers are getting out – there’s no real living to be made on the farm. Farmers are forced to pay retail for inputs (like seed and fertilizer) while selling their product (grain, livestock) for wholesale prices.

And there is consolidation. Consider the following numbers:

Four companies control 54 percent of poultry processing.

Four companies control 66 percent of pork processing.

Four traders control 70 percent of the global grain market.

Four companies control 82 percent of beef processing.

“This happens while they continue to pull in record profits. The ultimate effect of all of this consolidation on rural communities is it has pushed family farmers and ranchers to the brink of extinction,” Tester said during a speech on the Senate floor.

Tester claims recently the federal government has spent upwards of 10 billion to try and keep farms afloat. Most farmers do not want those funds, what they want is to make their money in the market.

But there is so much of the market controlled by so few, that just will not happen.

Folks, this affects us here in Kansas. It really does. This issue, the survival of family farms and competition in the food processing industry, is a critical issue for Kansas – a traditionally agrarian state.

Much has been written, and much blame cast, about inflation we have all felt at the grocery store this year. The lack of competition in production is a major factor in what we have witnessed. Worldwide inflation plays a role, fuel prices play a role.

But without competition, processors can charge whatever they want.

The numbers above, combined with profits from some of those companies, bear that out.

The last quarter of 2020 Tyson increased profits by $469 million – to $1.3 billion. A 143 percent increase in profit year-over-year. It is hard to believe this is not connected to inflation.

That is good for Tyson. They should make a profit. But consider what goes into that massive profit increase – killing off small producers, and charging you more at the store.