Farm nationalism: Washington insiders wrap Dow-DuPont merger in U.S. flag

As regulators review what the mega-merger would do to materials prices, competition, pollution clean-ups and pension promises, a couple of former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture have wrapped the planned Dow-DuPont combination in the American flag, framing pro-merger arguments in nationalist tones. 

They argue the Dow-DuPont which promises investors big savings while costing employees thousands of jobs as the longtime competitors close redundant plants, labs and offices and consolidate vendors, would make America strong by giving U.S. farmers and eaters a U.S.-based giant pesticide and genetically-modified seed company to compete with foreign rivals. 

Writing here on the Washington-based Morning Consult website for lobbyists, ex-U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, who was Agriculture Secretary under George W. Bush (he recently joined the John Deere board), and ex-U.S. Rep. Dan Glickman, who held the job under Bill Clinton (and later chaired the Motion Picture Association of America), say U.S. farmers can boost exports far above last year's $130 billion in our growing, hungry world — but first must face the "challenge" of a fast-consolidating farm-supply industry, as European and Chinese giants buy up small U.S. and foreign suppliers.  

The ex-AgSecs frame this as a "security" issue: Only a merged Dow-DuPont, among U.S. seed and pest-killer companies, can hope to handle "the unmanageable cost of innovation and the need for a strong, focused American-owned agriculture company."

Mother Nature, they say (without mentioning the warming climate), "throws curve balls" at farmers.

To fight nature, they argue, science and technology are our best defense.

Bold companies build chemical and genetic "tools focused on reducing water usage and raising drought resistant crops; nutritional advancements that assure the hungry are fed and improve overall health and well-being; better planting techniques and conservation and tillage practices that improve and preserve soil health; practices that reduce post-harvest loss and food waste; and new seed varieties that can stand up and thrive under the most difficult conditions."

And who could oppose healthier soil, less waste, more food? Too bad it's all so expensive! As "agriculture has become both more global and more competitive, fewer and fewer companies have the scale to afford the costly, end-to-end process from discovery through development and regulatory approval that is required to bring new products to farmers," Gickman and Johanns lament.

Growers face "the prospect of limited choices and fewer new products" — not enough poison to fight all the bugs. Even though, as they acknowledge, farm-supply innovators can "come in all sizes" — still, given the global scale of farming, growers now face an "innovation bottleneck" holding back progress. This can only be solved by "large companies with scale and focused resources."

The secretaries warn of "foreign-owned" giants "seeking to take control of American companies (they don't name names, but it's been widely reported that Germany's Bayer is trying to buy Monsanto, as ChemChina seeks control of Europe's Syngenta.)

Are you afraid yet? Meet America's corporate farm supply champion: "Dow and DuPont are each huge conglomerates within which their relatively small agriculture businesses must compete for resources against other businesses," the secretaries write, of their former constituents. (DuPont spokesman Dan Turner tells me DuPont isn't paying them to say so.)

"By coming together, they intend to then create a single, independent, U.S.-based and -owned pure agriculture company capable of competing effectively against their still larger global peers...

"America’s farmers need what Dow and DuPont are proposing – a strong, focused American agriculture company that is American-owned, championing the interests of the American farmer in a marketplace that may soon be dominated by foreign-owned behemoths."

Swelling like old-time Fourth of July oratory, their propaganda promises a massive mobilization of corporate resources on behalf of U.S. farms: "Without such an enterprise, totally and completely focused on agriculture, with every minute of every day devoted to working in partnership with farmers and the full range of entities working to feed an ever-expanding need for sustainable food sources, the American farmers who grow our food lose out – and the people who eat it do, too."

They speak for farmers, who, they say, "all want a faster, bigger and better stream of new products, techniques and tools because they need them. They want to seize business opportunities by putting food on tables, at home and abroad."

They close with an appeal to the old virtues of putting your shoulder to the plow (or your chief financial officer to his spreadsheet), and a modest demeanor, and national solidarity between farmer and pesticide corporation: "This will mean hard work for America’s farmers, which they will do with humility and excellence, as they always have. They need a strong, American-owned agriculture company by their side."