Consolidation and Concentration

Consolidation and concentration is one of three focus areas that will frame our policy, education, networking and collaboration activities in 2022, offering multiple points of intersection for funders across our network.

The Issue

Farmland Consolidation

Government agriculture policies have historically favored large farms and continue to do so – a reflection of the farm interests powerful enough to play a role in the policy-making process. The trend toward larger and larger farms has accelerated since the 1950s with marked changes over the last 40 years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, with the result that “large crop farms are getting larger, small crop farms are getting smaller, and midsize crop farms are disappearing.” Climate change and extreme weather events and other economic pressures on rural communities – many driven by consolidation and concentration in health care, retail and other sectors that serve these communities – make small and mid-size farms even more vulnerable to acquisition and absorption into larger farms. This means fewer farmers overall and fewer opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers and farmers of color.

Livestock, Agribusiness and Food System Concentration

Concentration plays out when a sector becomes so consolidated that there are only a few suppliers or buyers of a product. In the food system, the most blatant examples of concentration occur in the meat processing sector, where four companies control 67% of pork processing and 85% of beef processing. But concentration is also a factor in other sectors and at other points along the supply chain, such as institutional foodservice vendors. Workers in highly concentrated food system sectors have little power to demand proper working conditions and equitable treatment. Institutional buyers and retail consumers have little power to affect the prices in these sectors, and also bear the brunt of externalized costs for environmental and social harms caused by corporations who are not held accountable by current policies.


Opportunities for Philanthropy

Community-level interventions

Strengthening the economic viability of small and mid-size farms and food businesses helps combat consolidation and concentration at the community level. Direct interventions funders can support include financial support and technical assistance for innovative and regenerative farming practices; funding local and regional food system infrastructure to strengthen markets for small farmers and food businesses; and funding groups that organize along the food supply chain from agricultural and food chain workers to small farmers, students and consumers, and other groups.

Systems-level interventions

Reform of the agricultural payments scheme in the farm bill is the only way to truly remove the structural policy supports for farmland consolidation. Building the technical understanding and political support needed for this level of change is a long game that will require significant funding to counter the narratives and financial interests of the status quo. Funders can support work around shifting the narrative and political opinion that keeps the status quo in place. Education that will shift lawmakers’ understanding of what a strong, resilient American agriculture and food system looks like could help eventually shift the balance of funding within the farm bill away from commodity crop supports that drive consolidation and toward the restoration of a solid small and mid-sized farm economy that politicians love to laud as the backbone of their communities, yet are allowing to be squeezed out of existence.


Learn More

Consolidation, Concentration and Competition in the Food System – James M. MacDonald, chief of the Structure, Technology, and Productivity branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service; 2017

Bigger Farms, Bigger Problems – Union of Concerned Scientists

The Food System: Concentration and Its Impacts – Family Farm Action Alliance

U.S. Farm Programs: Eligibility and Payment Limits – Congressional Research Service

NGOs/Experts

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Family Farm Action Alliance

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Union of Concerned Scientists