US Congress question rash of seed company mergers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 2:10am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 2:10am

The series of mergers that promises to reshape the global seed and agricultural chemicals industry will boost research and development spending but won’t stymie competition, some of the companies involved told lawmakers in Washington.

A hearing held Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from senior executives, including two from Bayer AG and Monsanto Co.. which last week announced a US$66 billion merger. Also present were farmer groups including the National Farmers Union, which testified that US growers will face fewer choices, higher prices and less innovation if the deals go ahead.

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The global seed and chemical industry is undergoing a rapid consolidation, with three huge transactions announced in less than a year. In addition to Bayer’s proposed acquisition of Monsanto, China National Chemical Corp. plans to buy Syngenta AG while DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. are seeking to combine and then carve out a new crop-science unit.

“It looks like this consolidation wave has become a tsunami,” Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks.

Those mergers will eliminate head-to-head competition, reduce incentives to innovate and raise barriers for smaller companies, said Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute.

Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley said costs for bringing new products to market have soared, and the mergers will help companies pay those expenses.

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“To realize a step-change, agricultural companies will need to invest more if we expect to deliver what farmers need and do it faster,” Fraley said. The agriculture industry “desperately needs” those investments, he added.