Two takes on Monsanto crossed my path yesterday. One came from the stock market, the other from Fedco, the small vegetable-seed purveyor that supplies many small, sustainable-minded farms across the land, including my own Maverick Farms.
The market applauded Monsanto Tuesday, driving its share price to an all-time high; Fedco, in its 2006 seed catalogue that arrived at Maverick the same day, gave it the finger. Monsanto shares surged 4 percent yesterday after the GM seed giant doubled its profit expectations for the current quarter. The company cited strong demand in Europe and the United States for its cash-cow Roundup herbicide, and signaled “another strong season ahead” for its U.S. GM seed business.
Long a darling of the business press, Monsanto drew particularly lavish praise yesterday. Wall Street Journal/Smart Money investment guru James Stewart gushed over Monsanto’s “terrific financial results” and crowed that he first recommended the stock in 1999. “In March 2003, Monsanto was trading near $14 a share. This week, it was nearing $80,” he enthused.
He also celebrated what I consider to be a shameful fact: “Many of the antibioactivists have retreated, and mention of Monsanto is no longer a conversation-stopper.”
Environmentalists who promote biodiversity and deplore the dominance of energy-intensive industrial agriculture won’t find a more efficient target than Monsanto; that so many have retreated from the battle against it is, I suppose, a tribute to the company’s empty rhetoric about “feeding the world.”
Over on Motley Fool, another Monsanto enthusiast delivered an interesting spin on how the company might benefit from the WTO’s increasingly serious effort to end agriculture subsidies in the United States and Europe:
With agricultural subsidies under attack, U.S. farmers may already be making the calculation that they need more GM seeds to compete. Even the EU, which has been squeamish about GM crops, may be forced to change its attitude when confronted with the global market. That’s good news, of course, not only for Monsanto, but also for its competitors, like Syngenta and Bayer.
The scenario laid out here would not only benefit the GM seed giants, but also the big grain buyers like Archer-Daniels Midland and Cargill. In an unfettered global market, if farmers everywhere scramble to boost yield by using GM seeds, what you get is mass overproduction and falling prices for commodities like corn and soy — the raw materials for ADM and its ilk.
For farmers, however, the scenario spells disaster — more so in a world without subsidies. The idea that this engineered form of overproduction is going to “feed the world” is fanciful. Today, literal mountains of unsold field corn dot Iowa’s landscape; meanwhile, much of the world goes hungry.
Now to Fedco, seed purveyor to farms geared to feeding the people around them, not global commodity markets and industrial-food giants.
Triumphantly, heralded by a well-written polemic in its newly released catalogue, Fedco announced it would no longer buy seeds from Seminis, the world’s largest fruit-and-vegetable seed company. Monsanto bought Seminis last spring for $1.4 billion in cash.
Seminis supplied 11 percent of Fedco’s offerings last year. According to the catalog, Seminis offered “a superb line, they shipped on time, supplied high quality seed with good germination, and backed their products with excellent variety descriptions and sales materials.”
This article by organic-seed guru Matthew Dillon explains why Monsanto’s Seminis grab will present vexing challenges to small-scale seed purveyors like Fedco.
And I think Fedco is reacting in precisely the right way. Here’s its catalogue again:
We have chosen to use Seminis as a wake-up call. We do so because Monsanto epitomizes the road down which we no longer choose to go … the road that leads to our complete surrender of control of our seed and therefore of control of our food system. When one-fourth of our seed business is with multinational corporations engaged in genetic engineering research, too many of us have allowed seed to become just another industrial input rather than a life force.