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Major agribusinesses targeted in antitrust investigation

Major agribusinesses targeted in antitrust investigation

Canadian Competition Bureau looking at practices of BASF, Corteva, Bayer and Cargill in dealings with Farmers Business Network.

Canadian Competition Bureau obtained court orders on Feb. 11 to advance an ongoing civil investigation into alleged anticompetitive policies or practices of certain manufacturers and wholesalers of agricultural products operating in western Canada, including BASF, Bayer-Monsanto, Cargill, Corteva, Federated Coop, Univar Solutions and Winfield.

The bureau is investigating allegations that a number of manufacturers and wholesalers of seeds and crop protection products (such as insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) have anticompetitively refused to supply or restricted supply to Farmers Business Network Canada (FBN), a retailer of agricultural inputs and operator of an online analytics platform for farmers. It is also investigating whether some of these entities may have engaged in coordinated behavior against FBN.

The orders granted by the Federal Court of Canada require these manufacturers and wholesalers, and their affiliates, to produce records and written information relevant to the Canadian Competition Bureau’s investigation.

FBN said in a statement: “We believe competition and price transparency is fundamental to a market economy and to lowering farm expenses, so we are pleased that the bureau is looking into this matter.”

“The bureau is looking to determine if the alleged conduct may significantly harm competition and innovation in Canada’s agricultural sector,” the Competition Bureau explained. “There is no conclusion of wrongdoing at this time.”

Agriculture is a critical part of the Canadian economy. Protecting competition and innovation remains as important in this industry as in emerging sectors, particularly digital innovation that may provide disruptive competitive threats to established incumbents.

FBN, which entered Canada in November 2017, is the wholly owned Canadian subsidiary of Farmers Business Network Inc., a U.S.-based company founded in 2014. FBN operates a digital agriculture platform that gives farmers access to a variety of data-related services, such as agronomic advice on seed selection and yield benchmarking, and a pricing comparison tool that allows farmers to receive aggregated information on what other farmers are paying for agricultural products.

The digital economy is currently an area of focus for the Canadian Competition Bureau, which said it is “closely monitoring the conduct of firms to prevent harm to competition and digital innovation in all sectors of the Canadian economy.”

BASF, Corteva, Bayer and Cargill said they will cooperate with the Competition Bureau’s investigation, which was launched following a complaint from FBN.

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