The COVID-19 pandemic brought home to farmers, workers, and consumers the harms caused by bottlenecks in the center of America’s agricultural and food systems. The pandemic exposed the risks and dangers created by many of today’s production systems, which value hyper-efficiency over competition and resiliency. Moreover, longstanding challenges of market concentration and unbalanced market power, which have been part of the agricultural sector for decades, have in many cases worsened. This report highlights the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) robust and aggressive plan to decrease concentration and increase competition in the agricultural sector and to safeguard against future harm to our nation’s agricultural and food systems.
Concentration undermines economic resiliency and robust price competition. It lowers farmers’ and ranchers’ earnings, hamstrings their ability to compete, and limits the ability for rural economies to secure robust, self-sustaining prosperity. President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy puts competition at the core of the Biden-Harris Administration’s economic agenda and calls for a “whole-of-government approach” to promoting competition. [Executive Order 14036, Promoting Competition in America’s Economy, 86 FR 36987, July 9, 2021, sec. 2]
The historic Executive Order directs 72 specific actions across the Federal government and includes important directives to the USDA to support competition and fairness in livestock and poultry markets, seeds and other inputs, retail food markets, and more. The steps are complementary to and supportive of the goals of the Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains. [Executive Order 14017, America’s Supply Chains, February 24, 2021]
Since President Biden issued the Executive Order on Competition in July, USDA has taken a range of actions to tackle competition issues in agricultural markets. To address these large and complex problems, USDA is using all of the tools available, including working in concert with the rest of the Administration.
Among other USDA initiatives, the Order included the following directive:
to ensure that farmers have greater opportunities to access markets and receive a fair return for their products, not later than 180 days after the date of this order, submit a report to the Chair of the White House Competition Council, with a plan to promote competition in the agricultural industries and to support value-added agriculture and alternative food distribution systems
This report responds to that directive and lays out USDA’s approach to promoting competition in agricultural markets.
Highlights of USDA’s efforts include:
- Launching an unprecedented multibillion dollar investment plan to directly incentivize competition in food processing and fertilizer, creating more market opportunities and input options for producers.
- Reinvigorating USDA’s century-old fair and competitive market laws to establish a regime that counters unfair and anti-competitive practices and empowers producers and growers.
- Partnering with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce antitrust laws vigorously. This includes standing up a new one-stop shop at FarmerFairness.gov to make it easier to report complaints of potential violations, with confidentiality protections and whistleblower protections against retaliation for reporting criminal antitrust concerns.
- Working in concert with the White House and other agencies to call out bad actors and firms that are padding their profits at the expense of farmers, ranchers, workers, and consumers.
- Partnering with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enhance access to retail markets for farmers and smaller food processors.
- Working with the Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office to promote access to affordable seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs.
- Reviewing USDA programs to encourage fair competition and ensure that they are not inadvertently supporting systems and relationships that are prone to abuse.
- Providing technical assistance and support as Congress considers legislation to modernize and improve transparency and price discovery in livestock markets.
- Enhancing value-added market access and protecting those markets from consumer confusion.
- Promoting competition in transportation networks that producers depend on.