by Luke Runyon
Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of seeds, is trying to swallow up a competitor in pesticide production. The move could lead to fewer choices for farmers and further consolidate the industry.
Listen to the story here.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: We are also tracking news of a change in agriculture. Monsanto is the world’s largest producer of seeds, and it plans to get bigger buying a major pesticide producer. Luke Runyon, of KUNC, explains why many farmers worry about that.
TY VAUGHN: Hi, welcome.
LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: Ty Vaughn motions to an indoor growing room at a Monsanto lab in suburban St. Louis. He’s in charge of making sure the company’s seeds conform to international regulations. The mirrored room is full of plants – tomatoes, corn and soy beans.
VAUGHN: So I’ll go ahead and close this ’cause it’s kind of loud.
RUNYON: Rooms like this are the testing grounds for the company’s game-changing and controversial genetically-engineered seeds. You’d see the same set up at nearly every plant science laboratory in the world. What makes Monsanto unique is its size.
VAUGHN: We just have a lot of projects and a lot of crops coming through and so it’s really just scale.
RUNYON: In other words, Monsanto is really, really big. And it’s been getting bigger, buying companies that specialize in data collection and weather prediction. Monsanto is widely known for the invention of the weedkiller glyphosate, sold under the brand name RoundUp. But that was created decades ago, and by its own admission, today Monsanto lags behind in chemistry research. That’s why it wants to take over the chemical operations of Syngenta, the world’s largest pesticide producer.
ROB FRALEY: This has been a very unusual deal.
RUNYON: That’s Monsanto’s chief technology officer, Rob Fraley.
FRALEY: I’m kind of used to the situation where, you know, two parties meet, they argue, you usually walk out once or twice.
RUNYON: And then you shake hands and it’s done, Fraley says. But that’s not how this deal has gone. Syngenta officials wouldn’t talk on record, but in a video posted to the company’s website, chairman Michel Demare says the offers so far have been too low.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
MICHEL DEMARE: And the fact is that this is a very complex transaction which is being proposed. It will take a long, long time to be solved, and as a result of it, there’s a lot of uncertainties and no guarantee of completion.
RUNYON: Monsanto officials maintain that a deal with Syngenta would bring new technologies to the farm faster. Antitrust watchdogs say that’s a smokescreen. Hope Shand is a researcher with the Canadian agriculture think tank The ETC Group.
HOPE SHAND: We’ve never before in the history of agriculture had so few people making decisions about the future of agriculture and food security.
RUNYON: When Monsanto announced its bid for Syngenta earlier this summer, Shand says the handful of other big players started wheeling and dealing, too.
SHAND: What we’re going to see is a whole feeding frenzy among these corporations. Basically, we’re talking about narrowing farmers’ options.
RUNYON: How’s it going?
JERRY HERGENREDER: Pretty good.
Jerry Hergenreder grows genetically-engineered sugar beets and corn in rural Weld County, Colo. You can trace the origins of his crops back to labs at Monsanto.
HERGENREDER: They’ve got us buying seed from them. We’re buying chemical from them (laughter) and we can’t farm without them or that’s what they want us to think, see?
RUNYON: Hergenreder says over the decades, the number of companies and brands represented at his local seed dealer has dwindled, and the costs of the products there has risen.
HERGENREDER: It’s costing us thousands of dollars to produce a crop. The revenue we’re getting back in is in the hundreds. Now, you tell me how that equation’s going to work. It’s not going to work for very long.
RUNYON: Monsanto’s deal with Syngenta to make a massive agricultural conglomerate is far from finished. And even if a compromise is reached, it’ll need the blessing from antitrust regulators the world over before going forward. For NPR News, I’m Luke Runyon in Fort Collins, Colo.
INSKEEP: And we’re hearing that story thanks to a reporting collaboration with Harvest Public Media. It’s MORNING EDITION from NPR News.