Opinion: Are farmers getting weary of Big Ag corner cutting?

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Merriam-Webster defines collateral damage like this: “injury inflicted on something other than an intended target; specifically: civilian casualties of a military operation.”

I think it’s time for Merriam to freshen up its definition to add: “what happens to farmers/ranchers when Big Ag pursues raw profits without concern for consumer outcomes.”

Because it’s clear that all too often that’s what happens.

Dave Dickey

Late last month Syngenta AG – seeing the writing on the wall for its irresponsible actions – agreed to pay more than $1.4 billion with a “B” to farmers suing over the Swiss company’s marketing of Agrisure Viptera MIR 162 corn seed.

Syngenta marketed Agrisure Viptera –   a strain of insect-resistant genetically modified corn – to farmers in 2010.

But in its hurry to get its latest-greatest-fancy-ya-got-to-have-it-seed to market, Syngenta also cut a few corners.

To wit, failing to get export approval from China for the strain. By 2013, China was rejecting millions and millions of bushels of U.S. corn because they claimed it contained the strain – sometimes in very small amounts.

China did not authorize Agrisure Viptera MIR 162 for import until December 2014.

Having watched corn future markets for decades, I think it’s reasonable to conclude Syngenta’s decision cost corn farmers somewhere between 10 cents and 20 cents a bushel. In the heat of the crisis, Chicago Board of Trade’s December 2013 corn futures fell to a three-year low.

Farmers were collateral damage in Syngenta’s search for profits.

Often Big Ag companies caught up in this kind of car crash offer up some version of this lame excuse: “Well, we’re not breaking any laws”. Syngenta reached for the lame excuse playbook.

Usually, _________________ (fill in with your favorite BigAg company) also suggests that it’s just giving the farmer what they want and need.

Don’t believe it? Monsanto – currently embroiled in a major crisis over marketing of dicamba resistant soybeans – offered up the same lame excuse.

Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge as much as admitted that the company was willing to cut some corners to make some money, telling Reuters that it prevented testing of whether-or-not its new dicamba formulation was prone to vaporization onto neighbors’ non-dicamba tolerant soybean fields because “to get meaningful data takes a long, long time.  This product needed to get into the hands of growers.”

Monsanto now faces a class action lawsuit in St. Louis over its dicamba roll-out.

No matter how that lawsuit ends, farmers have once again become collateral damage in a Big Ag company’s search for profits.

Is it not time for the madness to stop?

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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