Chris Petersen, a third-generation hog farmer who says “I bleed rural” and tears up at the fate of family and friends, has found a way to keep his small holding going, and avoid the exodus that so many are making. His grown son and daughter have, too.
But meanwhile, Petersen is at war with the big companies that he says are destroying the culture of smaller places like Clear Lake.
- “We are going down the same road as the Russians with the collective farm system,” he told me yesterday. “There, the government controlled it. Here, it’s the corporations.”
The big picture: While his is a dramatic rendering of the state of American agriculture, Petersen has a point: Across industries, the U.S. has become a country of monopolies.
- Three companies control about 80% of mobile telecoms. Three have 95% of credit cards. Four have 70% of airline flights within the U.S. Google handles 60% of search. The list goes on. (h/t The Economist)
- In agriculture, four companies control 66% of U.S. hogs slaughtered in 2015, 85% of the steer, and half the chickens, according to the Department of Agriculture. (h/t Open Markets Institute)
- Similarly, just four companies control 85% of U.S. corn seed sales, up from 60% in 2000, and 75% of soy bean seed, a jump from about half, the Agriculture Department says. Far larger than anyone — the American companies DowDuPont and Monsanto.
As we have reported, some economists say this concentration of market power is gumming up the economy and is largely to blame for decades of flat wages and weak productivity growth.
- The issue has become a higher-profile plank of both political parties — and could move to the center of the 2020 debate.
Farmers like Petersen are on the receiving end of all this concentration. Just in the five years from 2007 to 2012, the number of U.S. hog farms declined by 25%, the Agriculture Department says.