RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Agri-Chem is All Around Us

Pity the poor agri-chem industry. nnNot being able to figure out how to squeeze more profits out of the farm sector, which is suffering right now, the biggest of the big corporations—Bayer, Dow, duPont, Monsanto, Syngenta—are trying to add value by making mergers. This strategy, played so well by the dot-com giants, allows corporations to re-value themselves, bid by bid. The re-valuing makes stockholders happy AND gives the last-man-standing CEO a chance to reduce competition and raise prices. And, dear consumer, you need to know. Because when you hear “agriculture” and “chemicals,” you need to think, “food.”

For those who lost their score card: Bayer sells the large majority of its antibiotics to corporate animal confinements; Dow and duPont are negotiating a merger that will create a powerful herbicide business to be a major player in the next generation of GMOs; Monsanto invented the patented gene game to promote its herbicide “Roundup”; Syngenta makes Atrazine, an herbicide that has been found in drinking water coast-to-coast. All these corps have paid big fines for poisoning various populations, but have survived in our too-big-to-fail culture.

So, while Dow and duPont are working out their deal, there are more to come. We have both Monsanto and ChemChina in pursuit of a relationship with Syngenta, and, even though Monsanto’s profits are WAY down, Bayer is in pursuit of Monsanto. Closing off the competition, see, gives them the ability, as the corporation with certain patents, to raise prices. Think Epi-Pen.

But, is any of the value real? The farm economy, as I said, is in decline and taxpayers are sick of paying subsidies just to cover the expenses of big landowners. So, is the “value” real, or is it just a modern-day straw-into-gold?

To make things more confused: Are the numbers from the chemical companies real? Back in February, Monsanto had to pay a $80 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission for accounting inconsistencies around Roundup rebates. The fine came about when an employee in the financial department turned whistleblower and reported problems that the company wouldn’t investigate.

The SEC didn’t say who the whistleblower was but that the person provided a “detailed tip and extensive assistance”. He has left the company. But, at the same time, youngsters are entering the portals at the beginning of their careers.

On Sept. 1, the University of Missouri hosted “Syngenta Day,” to welcome agriculture students back on campus. The promotion touted, “Take this opportunity to see how Syngenta is feeding the world. It’s never too late to start planning a career with Syngenta . . .” The media was not invited and when one writer asked about attending, she was told the event was only for students.

At the end of the presentation, Syngenta served a free meal. The ploy reminded me of a presentation back in 1997 when Monsanto was first promoting Roundup-Ready crops. A presenter had gathered ag students in an auditorium for information on the new technology. The first slide was a picture of cakes with fancy frostings, swirled and mounded on top. Cakes for kings!

Then, a bunch of talk. Blah blah blah seeds, blah blah scientists, lab coats, genes, fields, combines, blah blah blah.

At the end of the presentation, a serving table revealed. Cakes and cakes and cakes! The same cakes we had seen in the slide! And we, the humble slide viewers, were invited to partake!

I was able to exit quickly while the grad students loaded up and, today, those 1997 grad students are still farming, or maybe working for the Mon.

Back in September 2013, I wrote about the herbicide spray that hit our grapevines, knocking them back bigtime, wrecking our harvest and taking some of the antique ornamental plants from the homestead with it. A bad year for sure and since it had never happened before I didn’t know what to do. In 2014, our tomatoes were hit and I knew how to react. I took the plants to a lab, got their preliminary report, then called the state Department of Agriculture who sent an investigator who worked the site CSI-style and called the neighbors to access their spraying schedules.

The strategy didn’t uncover the perp, but the word was out that we were going to defend our crops. In 2015, we changed the planting areas.

Every year, more farms have are hit, and the losses are reaching into the millions of dollars. According to KFVS-TV in Portageville, the Missouri Department of Agriculture in 2016 has received more than 120 complaints. These are farms that raise corn and soybeans, rice, peaches, potatoes. As patches of ground over which water flows, they discharge into the water we drink and play in. Bayer, Dow, duPont, Monsanto, Syngenta on-tap.

For you, dear consumer, that means more chemicals in food, water, air. Even if you buy organic, your purchases are being flavored by the chemical soup we live in.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts Farm and Fiddle on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2016

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