Iowa Farmers and State Legislators say Keep Koch Industries Out

April 23, 2024

Iowa Farmers and State Legislators say Keep Koch Industries Out

By Ida V. Eskamani and Kendra Kimbirauskas

“Farmers were really on the frontlines fighting back in history…. Antitrust laws of the past were really designed to make sure our markets were open, fair, and competitive. In the same way we were rejecting monarchs in our political sphere, we were also rejecting monopolies in our commercial and economic sphere. Ultimately consolidation of power was seen as a threat, whether it be in the political or economic sphere.” -FTC Chair Lina Khan, opening remarks 

In Iowa this time of the year, if the weather is decent, farmers will be on their tractors planting crops. But on a windy spring day this past weekend, over 100 Midwesterns impacted by agriculture paused their planting to join their neighbors and other farmers from across Iowa and the Midwest to welcome the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair, Lina Khan to Nevada, Iowa. 

The listening session was organized by SiX in collaboration with Iowa State Representatives J.D. Scholten, Elinor Levin, and Megan Srinivas, who have been champions for Iowa’s independent family farmers, and the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU). The intent of the event was for farmers to share with the Chair what the multinational corporation Koch Industries’ recent acquisition of Iowa Fertilizer Company means for their farms, families, and futures. For more background on the potential merger, click here.

FTC Listening Session cropped
Photo by Kendra Kimbirauskas, State Innovation Exchange.

In December 2023, the Dutch chemical company OCI Global announced the $3.6 billion sale of Iowa Fertilizer Company to Koch Industries. Koch Industries is one of the largest multinational companies in the world, their influence deeply felt in America’s economy and democracy. If they are allowed to buy the Iowa Fertilizer Company it will merge with one of its five domestic competitors and gain further dominance in the U.S. fertilizer market. This merger is cause for a lot of concern for many Iowa farmers, which they shared with Chair Khan.

At the event, the farmers’ testimony was powerful with details of how corporate consolidation is impacting their bottom line more and more each year.  Many described grim situations such as when commodity prices increase and they receive a better price for their crops, their suppliers would also raise the costs for fertilizer, soil amendments, and supplies. 

Dwindling competition is driving up prices and making it impossible for young farmers to compete against monopolies that leverage state policy towards an unfair advantage via incentives, deregulation and rising costs. One farmer shared that she was extremely worried that due to the continued rising costs she and her husband would have nothing to pass on to her sons who wanted to farm. As an example, she shared that last year her family spent $20,000 on new tractor tires, the same amount of money that her parents had paid for 80 acres of prime farmland in the 1960s. 

IFU President Aaron Heley Lehman provided an overview of the lay-of-the land of the future of Iowa agriculture and shared that he believed the acquisition of Iowa Fertilizer to the multinational Koch Industries would harm the future of Iowa’s farming families and rural communities because Iowa farmers would continue to be squeezed by their suppliers. 

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Rob Larew traveled to the event from West Virginia and shared that what is happening in Iowa is a microcosm for what NFU farmers and ranchers have been up-against across the country as less competition in the market is making it increasingly difficult for farmers and ranchers to survive. He reminded the group that capitalism without competition is exploitation. 

Iowa state legislators stood with farmers and community members in expressing unease over the potential merger. In traveling his district, Rep. Scholten shared that concerns about lack of competition in agriculture is one of the top worries that Iowa farmer constituents share with him. He said that monopolistic behavior by agribusiness companies is squeezing both farmers and consumers in his district, making in increasingly difficult for the next generation to be able get into agriculture at a time when a significant portion of Iowa’s farmland will be changing hands over the next ten years as the average age of Iowa’s farmers is nearly 60 years old. 

Other officials attending the event with Chair Khan included former Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who was the longest serving Attorney General in United States history and Iowa Farm Service Agency Executive Director Matt Russel who farms with his husband in Marion County, Iowa.   

Chair Khan expressed her gratitude to SiX and our partners for organizing the listening session and providing a forum for the farmers to share their stories, views and experiences. She said that the information gleaned from the event in Iowa would be used to help the FTC determine if they would challenge the merger. 

Before the listening session, event organizers hosted Chair Khan for a local farm tour– so she could see firsthand the impact corporate consolidation has on small and large farms alike. 

The FTC is an essential federal agency, tasked with enforcing the nation’s antitrust and consumer protection laws. As Chair of the FTC, Lina Khan has reinvigorated antitrust in the country, prioritizing competition in the economy and fairness for consumers, workers, and local businesses. Under Chair Khan’s leadership, the agency has taken on corporate giants– from monopolies in agriculture, tech companies, grocery chains, healthcare, and private equity

FTC Panel
From left to right: IA Rep. Elinor Levin, IA Rep. Megan Srinivas, IA Rep. J.D. Scholten, FTC Chair Lina Khan, IFU President Aaron Heley Lehman, and NFU President Rob Larew. Photo by Kendra Kimbirauskas, State Innovation Exchange.

To learn more about SiX’s agriculture and economic justice work, click here and here.

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