U.S. farm agency announces working group on seed industry consolidation

By Leah Douglas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Several federal agencies will work together on competition issues in the seed sector as part of a broader Biden administration push to enhance competition in agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Monday.

The agency also announced a new round of grants for small meat processing plants, the latest in a series of investments USDA has made in response to a 2021 Biden administration executive order directing federal agencies to look for ways to grow competition across the U.S. economy.

“USDA is laser-focused on standing up for America’s farmers and ranchers by expanding processing capacity, creating fairer markets, and more revenue streams and market opportunities, which helps bring down food costs for families at the grocery store,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The USDA, Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Justice, and Federal Trade Commission will start up a working group on intellectual property and competition in the seed and agricultural input sector, USDA said.

USDA is also creating a “farmer seed liaison” role to deliver on recommendations in a report released by the agency today on how to promote competition in the seed industry.

More than three quarters of corn and soybean seeds are sold by four companies, according to data cited by USDA in a request for comment on this issue last year.

Three large deals completed in 2017 and 2018 merged six large seed and farm input companies into four: BASF; Bayer AG, which bought Monsanto; DowDuPont’s Corteva; and ChemChina-owned Syngenta.    All three deals were scrutinized by antitrust authorities in the United States, Europe and other markets but were eventually given the green light on condition that certain assets be divested.

USDA also announced it would lend $89 million in grants to organizations in seven states that would finance the startup and expansion of small meat and poultry plants. USDA issued a $73 million round of funding under the same program last fall.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas in Washington and Karl Plume in ChicagoEditing by Nick Zieminski and Sharon Singleton)