Tester Highlights Pressures Facing Montana Farmers and Ranchers From Market Consolidation & Unfair Competition, Demands Action
Senator stresses need to address causes of population decline, economic downturn in rural America
(U.S. Senate) – Highlighting the urgent need to combat consolidation in the agricultural sector, U.S. Senator Jon Tester put the needs of Montana agriculture—the number one industry in the state—front and center in Tuesday’s Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, hammering home the importance of the federal government to prioritize fair, competitive markets for independent producers.
Tester, a third-generation Montana farmer, cited his own experience to emphasize the stark economic pressures facing family farmers and ranchers as a result of corporate agricultural consolidation.
“I have watched through the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s the 90’s, the oughts, and the teens—our markets get consolidated and consolidated and consolidated,” Tester said. “In the private sector, there is no capitalism when you go sell your grain or your cattle or your pulses on the market. Because you have a few companies that control a large percent of the food supply—not just in the United States, but in the world.”
“When I look at my small town of now 500 people when it used to be 1,100 people, where we used to have five grain elevators to buy our grain and now we have none,” Tester continued. “Can you tell me what the federal government should be doing to encourage capitalism, to encourage competition, to encourage the private sector to play by the rules and not consolidate and beat the hell out of the folks that are in production agriculture?”
“We don’t have a market anymore,” agreed Stacy Mitchell, Co-Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “We are being governed by private entities when we go out into the marketplace—these giant corporations that control things, that are harming farmers, that are harming small businesses, pharmacies, grocers, and working people across the country. And what we need to do about that is resurrect our antitrust laws.”
As corporate food suppliers continue to grow, independent producers face increasingly smaller margins, leaving both their operations and their local economies vulnerable to losses. According to a report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, depopulation in rural areas is closely linked to the loss of employment caused by consolidation in the agricultural sector, leading to the erosion of main-street businesses and economic opportunity.
Tester is leading the charge in the efforts to combat corporate consolidation and protect the livelihood of family farmers and ranchers. He released his three-part Rancher Relief Plan aimed to provide more certainty to Montana producers and give consumers more access to Montana’s world-class products. These bipartisan initiatives include:
- Increasing interstate commerce and diversifying meat production in Montana and neighboring states;
- Legislation to ensure fair prices at the farm gate from large packers;
- And the first bipartisan Senate push for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling since Congress repealed it in 2015.
In the face of glaring price irregularities in the cattle market, Tester demanded the Department of Justice investigate price fixing in the cattle industry. Following the steepest decline in cattle prices in forty years, Tester called on the Department of Agriculture to take immediate action to stabilize beef markets.