KUNC     Tri States Public Radio

         

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, plans to hold hearings on the pending mergers of several large agricultural seed and chemical companies. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, plans to hold hearings on the pending mergers of several large agricultural seed and chemical companies. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to examine proposed mergers among agricultural chemical and seed companies in a September hearing.

With Chinese chemical giant ChemChina in talks to buy Syngenta, merger discussions ongoing between Dow and DuPont, and Bayer and Monsanto apparently inching toward a deal, regulators and lawmakers are worrying about decreased competition and higher prices for farmers.

Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow are among the biggest global players in agricultural seeds and chemicals.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responds to comments from young and beginning farmers he met with for a roundtable discussion in Ames, Iowa. (Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responds to comments from young and beginning farmers he met with for a roundtable discussion in Ames, Iowa. (Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

On a trip to the Midwest this week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offered some advice to the next presidential administration. As the candidates tour the country and remain largely silent on agriculture and food issues, the Agriculture Department’s purview remains important.

“The next agriculture secretary needs to have a very broad understanding of what this department does, who it impacts – and that it has an impact and effect on every single American,” Vilsack says, “not just Americans in one part of the country or growing one type of commodity.”

Vilsack is the only remaining member of President Obama’s original cabinet, and has been at the helm of USDA since 2009. In that time, the department has expanded programs for local foods and farmer’s markets, school meals and nutrition, and rural development. He noted that soon the agricultural sector and a new Congress will begin work on the next farm bill, which covers everything from crop safety nets to the food stamp program.

“My hope is that the next Agriculture secretary understands the importance of diversity,” Vilsack says, “in terms of size of operations, in terms of crops, and so forth, so they can continue to speak to a broader audience.”

Scientists at the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Insectary raise insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture. (Dan Garrison for Harvest Public Media)
Scientists at the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Insectary raise insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture. (Dan Garrison for Harvest Public Media)

Halfway down a dead-end road in the small farming town of Palisade, Colorado, is the research facility known as “The Insectary.”  Scientists at the lab develop “biocontrol insects,” insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture. Colorado’s Insectary is the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the United States.

The pioneering program began in response to a peach pest called oriental fruit moth that devastated the local crop in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Scientists saved the famed Palisade peach industry by successfully introducing the parasitic wasp, Macrocentrus ancylivorus, which was the perfect predator to control the moth.   

Today the facility’s angular, modern design stands out in its rural setting, but it reflects the groundbreaking science going on inside. Room after room of labs and two greenhouses are full of pesky insects and noxious weeds that have been introduced into the United States accidentally or on purpose over the years and are proven plagues to food and field. 

Pages