Rising food prices may start with seeds

The L.A. Times reports:

For 40 years, farmer Todd Leake and his family have battled bitter cold, hungry pests and a short growing season to coax soybeans out of their fields in eastern North Dakota.

The one thing they never had to fight for, though, was their seeds.

A decade ago, salesmen from as many as 50 seed companies would compete for their dollars. Each would promise healthier plants, richer yields or a better discount.

Today the Leakes have little choice: There are four seed companies in their area, and all sell seeds that include genetic traits patented and licensed by Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed firm.

“There’s basically nothing else available,” said Leake, 48. “You have to use their seeds and pay their prices.”

The concerns of farmers such as Leake will take center stage in Ankeny, Iowa, on Friday as the Justice Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture kick off the first of a yearlong series of public meetings to examine whether antitrust practices in agriculture are driving food prices higher.

The meetings are intended to allow producers, competitors and activists to air their concerns about the grain, poultry, dairy and livestock industries. The government is also trying to ferret out reasons for the sometimes vast gaps between what farmers are paid for producing food and the prices shoppers pay at the grocery store.

Justice Department officials, who spoke on background because they said it was too early to comment about concerns raised at the meetings, said the workshops were a chance for the government to examine the changes the food sector had undergone in recent years.

The push to hold such events, the officials said, was driven in part by President Obama’s concerns over how consolidation has affected industry competition.

Many experts believe that rising food prices start with seeds. Continue reading