As farmers struggle with soaring input costs, the Agriculture Department is planning to take a closer look at how retailers and seed companies are pricing their products, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the National Farmers Union on Tuesday. 

Addressing delegates to the annual NFU convention in Denver via Zoom, Vilsack said USDA plans to send out a request in the next seven to 10 days asking for information about the operations of retailers and seed companies.

"We are going to begin the process of taking a look at that retail relationship and seed relationship, especially as it relates to intellectual property and seed patents," Vilsack said. "This is all part of our effort to try and make sure that we are creating that balanced and fair marketplace."

The announcement is the latest of the Biden administration's efforts to crack down on consolidation and agribusiness market power. Vilsack said USDA is working to finalize a poultry industry transparency rule, which he said would shine a spotlight into the requirements surrounding the tournament system in place for poultry, as well as rules concerning discriminatory or retaliatory practices in the marketplace.

Vilsack also continued to express concern that companies are using high fertilizer prices to their advantage. He said USDA has been working with the attorneys general of several states to conduct a market study of unusual fertilizer costs. 

"I think there are some serious questions that need to be asked and answered relative to the high cost of fertilizer and whether or not the high costs are, in fact, the result of market forces," he said.

In response to questions from Farmers Union members, Vilsack also spoke about problems getting political USDA positions filled. He placed part of the blame for the slow process of getting President Joe Biden's nominees confirmed by the Senate. He said senators were using the process to "get concessions from the department on issues that matter to them specifically."

"While we want to work with that process and understand it, it gets to a point where it's unfair for the individual who has been nominated, who is eminently qualified, [and] who is waiting literally for months on hold," he said. "It's just not right."

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