Consolidation in the agricultural seed and chemical industry

The Wall Street Journal reported that German company Bayer increased its share-price offer for the purchase of Monsanto. If (or when) the merger happens, the combined company will dominate an already-concentrated agricultural seed and chemical industry. I don’t have current figures on global industry concentration ratios, but the main players in agricultural seed and chemicals are Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow Chemical, BASF and Bayer. According to the WSJ article, Monsanto previously tried taking over Syngenta but failed, DuPont and Dow Chemical are merging, and China’s National Chemical is buying out Syngenta. Monsanto is also seeking an alliance with BASF.

These companies are already tightly aligned. For example, all participate in cross-licensing agreements with each other in a host of technology sharing arrangements, most notably in genetically-engineered seed traits. Phil Howard, a sociologist at Michigan State University, graphically documented these relationships in 2013 (see his cross-licensing agreements and seed industry structure graphics). The Farm Journal provides a similar report (here), with graphics for the top five seed companies in each year from 2010 to 2014.

Many economists support mergers like these in the name of increased efficiency. Often there are economies of scale associated with the development and distribution of technologies, such as genetically modified crops and agricultural chemicals, which can lower costs for firms and, in theory, for buyers of the companies’ products. This is a good thing. But when choice is reduced in the name of efficiency, I wonder whether it is always worth it. Having options is powerful. Limiting choices has the potential to create dependencies and redistribute power. Are farmers’ and consumers’ interests really served by having fewer companies serve them? Some may say that choices and options will not be affected, since the products offered by the companies would still be available. But when they are offered by one firm rather than many, is that really the same?

Efficiency is good, but so is choice. Can we seek a balance of efficiency and choice?

Another three-peat

Continuing the theme of my previous post, a former doctoral student of mine, Heidi Stallman, has had the third essay of her three-essay dissertation published online. Heidi’s essay, “Farmers’ Willingness to Cooperate in Ecosystem Service Provision: Does Trust Matter?” was just published in the journal Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics. Her other two essays, “Ecosystem Services in Agriculture: Determining Suitability for Provision by Collective Management,” and “Determinants Affecting Farmers’ Willingness to Participate in Cooperative Pest Control,” were published in the journal Ecological Economics. Congratulations, Dr. Stallman!


Three for three

Congratulations to my former doctoral student, Iddisah Sulemana, a Lecturer of Economics at the Ghana Institute of Management & Public Administration. He just received notification that his paper, “Environmental Kuznets Curves for Air Pollution in African and Developed Countries: Exploring Turning Point Incomes and the Role of Democracy,” has just been accepted for publication in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy. This is the third paper from his three-essay dissertation to be published. His dissertation essay, “Perceived Socioeconomic Status as a Predictor of Environmental Concern in African and Developed Countries,” was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. His other dissertation essay, “Perceived Environmental Quality and Subjective Well-being: Are African Countries Different from Developed Countries?” was published in the International Journal of Happiness and Development.

Latest issue of Agriculture and Human Values in print

The latest issue of Agriculture and Human Values, volume 33, number 3, has just been printed. It is one of the largest issues printed, with 15 regular articles, one in-the-field report, and five book reviews. There is an outstanding collection of articles in this issue. Here is a summary:

Clark and Inwood examine the extent to which the production of fresh fruits and vegetables can be scaled up to mainstream grocery venues in Ohio. LaCharite examines the evolution of university agriculture projects in the US. Soper reports on how indigenous peasant farmers in Ecuador prefer export markets over production for local markets and food sovereignty. Steckley shows how food sovereignty is related to class hierarchies and social preferences for imported foods in a study from rural Haiti. Suhardiman, et al use a case study in Laos to show why policies to promote sustainable intensification are difficult to implement. Guthman and Brown use the case of a soil fumigant and public comments that led to its withdrawal in California to discuss the nature of consumer activism. Phillipov uses a case study to explore how supermarkets use social media and other techniques to respond to consumer concerns about food ethics. Costanigro et al examine how product labels and preferences for corporate social responsibility activities of firms affect consumer purchase decisions of milk products. Lehberger and Hirschauer use a combination of economics and psychology to examine how the preferences of German women to become professional farm managers differ from those of men. Montenegro de Wit critiques the debate about the nature and extent of agrobiodiversity loss. De Bont et al examine how control over water resources evolves through a case study in Tanzania. Wertheim-Heck and Spaargaren review different ways Vietnamese consumers shop for vegetables and relate their findings to the historical development of supermarkets. Bonnave et al explore how seed exchanges in Bolivia relate to crop genetic diversity. Shete et al show how large scale farms affect soil health in Ethiopia. Ekers et al examine the economic and non-economic aspects of non-paid labor on Canadian farms. Finally, in their in-the-field report, Sardos et al examine the biodiversity of root and tuber crops in Vanuatu.

A direct link to the online version of the issue is available by clicking here. Some articles in the journal are open access. Others may require an individual or institutional subscription to read in full.

Joint 2017 Annual Meetings and Conference of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society and the Association for the Study of Food and Society

The next annual meeting and conference of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) will be held June 14-18, 2017, in Pasadena, California. The conference is hosted by Occidental College. The conference is a great opportunity for scholars, policymakers and activists to examine issues relating to food, agriculture and the food and agricultural system and to network with other scholars, policymakers and activists. Submissions for individual papers, panels, roundtable discussions, lightning talks and other events will be accepted beginning December 15, 2016. Abstracts and submissions are due January 31, 2017. The conference website is at

Information about the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society is online at