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Sugar beet harvest

Sugar beets are harvested near Billings. Local beet farmers support a government program to buy domestically produced sugar when foreign product floods the market, a program that Montana sugar beet farmers hope President Donald Trump's pick for agriculture secretary supports. 

Montana farmers are nervously watching the purchase of agricultural giant Monsanto by German pharmaceutical and farm chemical company Bayer.

Bayer’s planned $57 billion purchase of Monsanto was announced Wednesday. Bayer would also buy $9 billion in Monsanto debt. As the companies described the deal as a good for the next generation of innovation for agriculture, farmers worried the lack of competition might hurt more than help, especially after the merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont.

“I think if you looked at one of them by itself, it wouldn’t be that bad,” John Youngberg of Montana Farm Bureau Federation said of the mergers. “But now we’re looking at two of them if this goes through.”

Montana farm acres are populated by products from all four companies. Montana Farm Bureau member Ken Johnson, of Conrad, noted in a statement Wednesday that the mergers could result in higher cost for seeds, herbicide and fertilizer because of reduced competition.

In addition to Monsanto-Bayer, and Dow-DuPont, seed and chemical company Syngenta is being purchased for $43 billion by the China National Chemical Corporation.

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Youngberg said there’s also concern about research. Farmers have benefited from a race between companies trying to develop better products. There’s concern that research will be consolidated and fewer research paths will be tested.

The Farm Bureau is asking the U.S. government to scrutinize the latest deal carefully.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the Senate’s only farmer said the merger between Bayer and Monsanto couldn’t be worse for Montana farmers.

“Corporate consolidation in the agriculture market is the single greatest threat to family farmers and our rural way of life. This latest proposed mega-merger stands as a high water mark for agribusiness in its quest to dominate the seed market, and family farms will pay the price,” Tester said in a statement about the sale.”

Tester called on the Justice Department to reject the sale.

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