As Americans keep paying more for groceries, including meats, inflation gets most of the blame. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, according to advocates for small farms.
They want to keep the spotlight on the lack of competition in agricultural markets.
The Biden administration has announced several steps to address market concentration, including a new online portal for producers to report anti-competitive practices. It coincides with the Fairness for Farmers campaign led by the National Farmers Union.
Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota union, said the public has to realize small farmers and ranchers aren’t making a lot of money from the higher cost of meat.
“Right now, the processing industry is making large profits and farmers are not getting a fair price,” said Wertish. “But the consumer’s also paying a high price on the retail counter.”
Four main companies have controlled roughly 80% of beef-processing in the U.S.
Wertish added that with foreign ownership more of a factor now, some of the profits are flowing out of the country.
The North American Meat Institute has criticized recent federal moves, saying labor shortages are at the center of current market issues.
Josh VanDerPol is the owner of Pastures A Plenty & Co farm and raises hogs in western Minnesota. He and his wife had to switch mainly to direct marketing several years ago to avoid being undercut by larger processors.
But he said not all producers can do that and are stuck trying stay afloat while going through middlemen.
“It makes it pretty tough to achieve a price that is profitable,” said VanDerPol.
At the state and federal level, there have been efforts to expand capacity among smaller-scale processors. VanDerPol said it’s a big undertaking he hopes will pay off.
“We still have to see those plants get up and running and profitably,” said VanDerPol. “But I think that would be a very good step.”
The campaign also notes that monopolies don’t affect just beef and poultry, but corn, soybeans and fertilizer as well.