Big Fertilizer: Measuring the Impacts of Food and Farm System Concentration

The food system is currently embroiled in a period of unprecedented consolidation and concentration, both globally and nationally. Economists agree that market abuses are likely to occur when the concentration ratio of the top four firms (CR4) exceeds 40%. In the U.S., CR4 ratios surge far beyond this percentage — in some cases doubling it — in such diverse sectors as soybean processing, beef processing, pork processing, poultry processing, cold cereal, soft drinks, beer, salty snacks, bread, ice cream, fresh cut salad, wine, retail grocery, and convenience stores.

In other words, the conditions of our entire food production and distribution system are ripe for abuse from multinational corporations. Concentration at this level is more than a series of abstract figures, but rather a precarious condition that has real-world consequences for people across the country.

Using the highly-consolidated fertilizer sector as an example, this report illustrates how corporate consolidation extracts wealth from farmers, workers, and rural communities.  

Stearns, Minnesota: A Case Study in Corporate Theft

Consider Representative Fischbach’s home county of Stearns, MN, where the USDA reported 214,930 acres of grain corn planted in 2021. Similar acreages planted today would cost farmers in this county an additional $8,500,481.50 in fertilizer expenses alone. 

This is $8.5 million of income stolen not only from the local farmers of Stearns County, but from the community in which they reside. This loss of income means lower tax revenues for the county and state, which leads to lower investment in schools and local infrastructure. It means more independent farms and local businesses will go out of business, leading to even further tax-revenue loss. As we see $8.5 million leave this community, it means depopulation and increased poverty. It is not only a loss of income for farms, but the crippling of their communities. 

It we do not put a stop to the consolidated oligarchies that we see today, then farms will continue to depend on taxpayer-funded subsidies and local residents will grow increasingly dependent on social assistance programs — all trying to supplement the wealth these corporations have extracted from rural communities.