The calendar has flipped over following a productive year for competition in agriculture in 2023. The previous year featured major Fairness for Farmers priorities sharing time in the spotlight, including efforts to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act, Right to Repair, and legislation resembling a farm bill competition title.
NFU intends to carry that momentum forward, as Congress finds itself in a familiar place: racing to meet several major deadlines. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have signaled their desire to proceed on a new farm bill in the first quarter of the year. Congress has once again extended government funding into March, as appropriators race to develop annual appropriations bills for the rest of the fiscal year.
1. FARM SAFETY NET TALKS HEAT UP
Farm bill negotiations remain ongoing and complicated, as each side of the committees have disagreements concerning the farm safety net and climate-smart agriculture investments from the Inflation Reduction Act. In mid-January, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) offered a variety of potential changes to commodity programs and crop insurance.
In a letter to Senate colleagues, Chair Stabenow outlined five key principles for the farm safety net in the (now) 2024 Farm Bill:
- Programs must be targeted to active farmers.
- Provide farmers choices and flexibility.
- Assistance should be timely.
- Expand the reach of programs to help more farmers.
- Address the emerging risks farmers face.
Sen. Stabenow expressed support for offering farmers the option of forgoing title I programs (such as Agriculture Risk Coverage or Price Loss Coverage) in exchange for purchasing risk management products with higher subsidy levels. The Chair noted that previous farm bills offered cotton growers a choice and the next bill ought to extend this option to all commodities.
The Chair’s comments echo several of NFU’s policy priorities, such as broadening the reach and availability of Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP), increasing marketing loan rates, and protecting funding for nutrition and conservation programs from cuts or repurposing. NFU looks forward to learning more about the proposals, as well as the mentioned possibility of increasing farm bill spending levels using outside funds.
2. NFU CONVENES 2024 POLICY COMMITTEE
From January 8-11, NFU convened a meeting of the 2024 Policy Committee, kicking off NFU’s annual 2024 policy process. An integral component of Farmers Union’s success and reputation is its grassroots policy process, which is driven by the organization’s 220,000 farmer- and rancher-members.
Farmers Union’s policy process begins each year at the local or county level, where members develop policy proposals based on their experiences, concerns, aspirations, and understanding of farm policy. Individuals are then elected to serve as delegates for their state or regional Farmers Union conventions, during which they have the opportunity to debate and vote on policy proposals along with other delegates from across the region. From there, a small subset of delegates is elected to represent that state or region’s interests during the policy debate at National Farmers Union’s annual convention.
But the locally-led policy making process begins at the national level long before the annual convention. Every January, NFU gathers the national policy committee, consisting of 7-8 members who are nominated by their state or regional Farmers Union organization.
Earlier this month, eight Farmers Union members from across the country traveled to Washington, DC to begin crafting NFU’s official 2024 policy book, going line-by-line through NFU’s existing policy proposing, debating, and adopting changes. They also had the opportunity to hear from the House and Senate Agriculture Committees’ majority and minority staffs for discussions on the state of farm bill deliberations.
The committee is tasked with drafting a report to present to all delegates for consideration during the policy debate and adoption at NFU’s annual convention. All changes the committee approves must be voted on and adopted by the delegate body. Delegates have the opportunity to debate and vote on any change the committee presents and may also propose amendments on the floor during the policy session. NFU’s policy book is finalized only upon adoption by the delegate body at the convention, ensuring NFU’s official policy best represents our members.
This democratic, grassroots, member-driven process is the lifeblood of Farmers Union. It is essential for ensuring all voices in the organization are heard equally and the voices of farmers and ranchers across the country can speak loudly and clearly in Washington in support of family agriculture.
The 2024 Policy Committee will reconvene in March at NFU’s 122nd Anniversary Convention, in Scottsdale, AZ to propose their recommendations to the full slate of delegates during the grassroots policy process. This current committee is chaired by Hank Wonnenberg, representing South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU). Hank returned to the policy committee after serving as a member in 2023.
The other members of this year’s Policy Committee are:
- Missy Bakker Roach, Minnesota Farmers Union.
- Tim Fischer, North Dakota Farmers Union.
- Barry Squires, Oklahoma Farmers Union.
- Lindsey Shapiro, Pennsylvania Farmers Union.
- Zach Withers, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
- Thomas (Josh) Munns, Utah Farmers Union.
- Patty Edelburg, Wisconsin Farmers Union.
3. NEW DOJ/FTC MERGER GUIDELINES FINALIZED – AND CONFRONT AN IMMEDIATE CASE
On December 18, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) jointly released the final version of their 2023 Merger Guidelines after more than two years of consultation. In January 2022, the agencies announced an initiative to reevaluate and consider revisions to the previous guidelines on horizontal and vertical mergers.
The new guidelines aim to address concerns of excessive corporate consolidation by enhancing merger enforcement. Key changes feature the inclusion and emphasis of horizontal and vertical mergers in a single guidelines’ document, a lower concentration level recommendation to presume mergers are unlawful, and a generally more aggressive stance on merger enforcement.
The FTC claims the new guidelines emphasize the dynamic and complex nature of competition ranging from price competition, employment terms and conditions, and platform competition, enabling the agency to better assess and protect competition throughout the economy. Though the guidelines are not legally binding, they provide transparency into the agencies’ decision-making process regarding merger enforcement and identify major factors and frameworks that are considered during merger investigations.
The updated merger guidelines were released just before reports of a proposed acquisition, between Koch Industries and OCI Global’s Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFCO), a major nitrogen-enrichment facility in Wever, IA. Koch Industries is seeking a $3.6 billion acquisition of IFCO, established in 2017 with substantial local, state, and federal investment in a project proponents cited as an opportunity to challenge Koch’s dominance in the fertilizer industry.
NFU has joined several agriculture and environmental groups urging DOJ and FTC investigate the proposed merger, citing the updated merger guidelines’ concerning increased concentration in highly concentrated markets and entrenching a firm’s market dominance. Koch Industries is one of four firms that control approximately 75 percent of the fertilizer market, while being one of the largest privately held companies in the United States.
NFU and partners urge DOJ and FTC to thoroughly investigate the proposed acquisition and block the merger if the agencies conclude, under the new guidelines, the deal will further entrench Koch Industries’ control in the fertilizer sector.