By John Stencel
I was elected Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Nov. 17, at RMFU’s 93rd Annual Convention in Pueblo. I expect that I have met many of you in the past, as I served as RMFU president from 1970 until 1993.
I left RMFU eight years ago for an appointment as Colorado state executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). I was then asked to serve in Washington, D.C., first as FSA deputy administrator of program delivery and field operations and later as special assistant to the Administrator of the Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration.
It is great to be back. I feel truly “at home” here, and I am ready to go to work for you. Just one week after I was elected, I spent four days in Washington, D.C., participating in a National Farmers Union (NFU) board meeting and lobbying members of Congress on the farm bill. As I said in my acceptance speech during convention, if RMFU is to work effectively for family farmers and ranchers, we need your enthusiasm, your ideas and your energy. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any of the RMFU staff with your suggestions. For decades, Farmers Union has been issuing warnings against the lack of competition in agricultural markets. We often refer to it as “concentration.” Statistics show that consumer prices continue to rise, while farmgate prices—in real dollars—decline. As a result, the farmer’s share of the retail food dollar continues to drop. The gap that has widened between retail and farmgate prices benefits neither the producer nor the consumer.
RMFU and NFU will continue to address concentration as one of the primary impediments to farmers’ profitability, and we have widened the net, speaking out against mergers in other sectors. Earlier this year, the NFU released results of a study it commissioned which showed that the retail grocery industry is quickly consolidating. In addition, we have spoken out, with some success, against railroad, bank and other mergers.
We are currently urging rejection of the proposed merger between EchoStar and Direct TV. In rural areas, these two companies together provide 85 percent of the satellite service. Competition between them keeps prices reasonable and service good, but if by merging they become the only game in town it is fair to assume that such a merger would inevitably lead to escalating prices and poorer service.
In rural areas, satellite is often the only way to receive news. Many areas cannot even get so-called local stations without it, and cable is not available in rural areas. In addition, the satellite transmission is vital to schools, hospital and other rural entities. Without them, rural areas would have to do without many high-tech opportunities, such as the internet, distance learning and audiovisual medical consultations.
Another reason I feel so strongly about this merger is that it represents another blow to our system of free enterprise. Adam Smith, the father of free enterprise warned against too much economic power in too few hands, saying laws must be enacted to prevent it.
We have watched far too passively as local, rural banks have been acquired by national or multinational corporations. Medium-sized, commercial meat processing plants are virtually non-existent due to acquisitions or the inability to compete with plants owned by multinational enterprises. RMFU is speaking out against the proposed satellite merger in order to keep some competition in this increasingly important sector of satellite communication, and will be addressing other mergers and acquisition that will result in less competition.
As your new president, I am especially interested in hearing about issues important to you and your community.