Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics

Living Edition
| Editors: David M. Kaplan

Vertical Integration and Concentration in US Agriculture

  • Mary HendricksonEmail author
  • Harvey James
  • William D. Heffernan
Living reference work entry

Later version available View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6167-4_216-1



Vertical integration is the process whereby one firm merges with another firm from which it buys inputs or to which it sells output. Concentration reflects the degree of horizontal integration and defines the extent to which a firm has competitors. The food system in the USA has become increasingly integrated and concentrated during the last 100 years. Economists have long argued that economic factors – most notably economic efficiency – largely explain the increase in vertical integration and concentration in the agrifood industry (MacDonald et al. 2004), but others implicate the exercise of market power and changes in antitrust policy enforcement as explanations (Carstensen 2008; Hendrickson and Heffernan 2002). Concentration and integration (hereafter simply “consolidation”) in the food system raises a number of important ethical issues for farmers, agribusiness firms, and consumers. These ethical issues are...


Large Firm Food System Vertical Integration Food Sector Industry Concentration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Berry, W. (1990). What are people for? San Francisco: North Point Press.Google Scholar
  2. Blas, J. (2010, August 19). End looms for fertiliser cartels. Financial Times.Google Scholar
  3. Bonanno, A., & Constance, D. H. (2006). Corporations and the state in the global era: The case of seaboard farms in Texas. Rural Sociology, 71(1), 59–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carstensen, P. C. (2008). Buyer power, competition policy, and antitrust: The competitive effects of discrimination among suppliers. Antitrust Bulletin, 53(20), 271–331.Google Scholar
  5. Clifford, S. (2011, January 17). Groceries fill aisles at stores like CVS. New York Times.Google Scholar
  6. Constance, D. H., Kleiner, A., & Rikoon, J. S. (2003). The contested terrain of swine regulation. In J. Adams (Ed.), Fighting for the farm: Rural America transformed (pp. 76–95). University Park: University Press of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  7. Constance, D. H., Martinez, F., Aboites, G., & Bonanno, A. (2013). The problems with poultry production and processing. In H. S. James Jr. (Ed.), The ethics and economics of agrifood competition (pp. 99–126). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. De Schutter, O. (2010). Addressing concentration in food supply chains: The role of competition law in tackling the abuse of buyer power. http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/otherdocuments/20101201_briefing-note-03_en.pdf. Accessed 13 July 2013.
  9. Drabenstott, M. (1999). Consolidation in U.S. agriculture: The new rural landscape and public policy. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Economic Review, First Quarter, 63–71.Google Scholar
  10. ETC Group. (2008). Who owns nature? Corporate power and the final frontier in the commodification of life. http://www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/707/01/etc_won_report_final_color.pdf. Accessed 29 Dec 2011.
  11. Etter, L. (2008, May 27). Lofty prices for fertilizer put farmers in a squeeze. Wall Street Journal, A1.Google Scholar
  12. Foer, A. A. (2010). Agriculture and antitrust enforcement issues in Our 21st century economy (pp. 219–252). Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/ag2010/dc-agworkshop-transcript.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2011.
  13. Friedmann, H., & McMichael, P. (1989). Agriculture and the state system. Sociologia Ruralis, 29(2), 93–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hatanaka, M., Bain, C., & Busch, L. (2006). Differentiated standardization, standardized differentiation: The complexity of the global agrifood system. In T. Marsden & J. Murdoch (Eds.), Between the local and the global: Confronting complexity in the contemporary agri-food sector (Research in rural sociology and development, Vol. 12, pp. 39–68). London: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  15. Heffernan, W. D., & Constance, D. H. (1990). Concentration of agricultural markets. Columbia: University of Missouri, Department of Rural Sociology.Google Scholar
  16. Heffernan, W. D., Hendrickson, M. K., & Gronski, R. (1999, January 8). Consolidation in the food and agriculture system. Report to the National Farmers Union. http://www.foodcircles.missouri.edu/whstudy.pdf. Accessed 12 Jan 2012.
  17. Hendrickson, M. K., & Heffernan, W. D. (2002). Opening spaces through relocalization: Locating potential resistance in the weaknesses of the global food system. Sociologia Ruralis, 43(4), 347–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hendrickson, M. K., Heffernan, W. D., Howard, P., & Heffernan, J. (2002). Consolidation in food retailing and dairy. British Food Journal, 103(10), 715–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hendrickson, M. K., & James, H. S., Jr. (2005). The ethics of constrained choice: How the industrialization of agriculture impacts farming and farmer behavior. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 18, 269–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hendrickson, M. K., James, H. S., Jr., & Heffernan, W. D. (2008a). Does the world need U.S. farmers even if Americans don’t? Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 21, 311–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hendrickson, M. K., Wilkinson, J., Heffernan, W. D., & Gronski, R. (2008b). The Global Food System and Nodes of Power. Report prepared for Oxfam America. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1337273
  22. Howard, P. H. (2009). Visualizing consolidation in the global seed industry: 1996–2008. Sustainability, 1(4), 1266–1287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hubbard, K. (2009). Out of hand: Farmers face the consequences of a consolidated seed industry. Washington, DC: National Family Farm Coalition. http://farmertofarmercampaign.com/Out percent20of percent20Hand.FullReport.pdf. Accessed 22 Dec 2011.
  24. James, H. S., Jr. (2013a). Introduction to the ethics and economics of agrifood competition: Connotations, complications and commentary. In H. S. James Jr. (Ed.), The ethics and economics of agrifood competition (pp. 1–21). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. James, H. S., Jr. (Ed.). (2013b). The ethics and economics of agrifood competition. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  26. James, H. S., Jr., & Hendrickson, M. K. (2008). Perceived economic pressures and farmer ethics. Agricultural Economics, 38, 349–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. James, H. S., Jr., Hendrickson, M. K., & Howard, P. H. (2013). Networks, power and dependency in the agrifood industry. In H. S. James Jr. (Ed.), The ethics and economics of agrifood competition (pp. 99–126). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Levins, R. (2002). Collective bargaining for farmers. Choices 4th Quarter, 15–18.Google Scholar
  29. Lusk, J. (2013). The food police: A well-fed manifesto about the politics of your plate. New York: Crown Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  30. Lynn, B. (2006). Breaking the chain: The antitrust case against Wal-Mart. Harper’s Magazine, 313(1874), 29–36.Google Scholar
  31. Lynn, B. (2009). Cornered: The monopoly capitalism and the politics of destruction. Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  32. Lyson, T. (2004). Civic agriculture: Reconnecting farm, food, and community. Medford: Tufts University Press.Google Scholar
  33. MacDonald, J. M., Perry, J., Ahearn, M., Banker, D., Chambers, W., Dimitri, C., Key, N., Nelson, K., & Southard, L. ( 2004). Contracts, markets, and prices: Organizing the production and use of agricultural commodities (Agricultural Economic Rep. No. 837.). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.Google Scholar
  34. McIntyre, B., Herren, H., Wakhungu, J., & Watson, R. (2008). Agriculture at a crossroads: Report of the international assessment of agriculture knowledge science and technology for development. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  35. McWilliams, J. (2009). Just food: Where Locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly. New York: Little Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  36. Moss, D. (2010). Transgenic seed: The high technology test of antitrust? CPI Antitrust Journal, 2, 1–7.Google Scholar
  37. Moss, D. (2011). Competition and transgenic seed systems. Antitrust Bulletin, 56(1), 81–103.Google Scholar
  38. Peine, E. K. (2013). Trading on pork and beans: Agribusiness and the construction of the Brazil-China-soy-pork commodity complex. In H. S. James Jr. (Ed.), The ethics and economics of agrifood competition (pp. 193–210). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pollack, A. (2010, October 5). Monsanto’s fortunes turn sour. New York Times.Google Scholar
  40. Rohwer, Y., & Westgren, R. (2013). Are ethics and efficiency locked in antithesis? In H. S. James Jr. (Ed.), The ethics and economics of agrifood competition (pp. 37–54). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Story, M., Kaphingst, K. M., Robinson-O’Brien, R., & Glanz, K. (2008). Creating healthy food and eating environments: Policy and environmental approaches. Annual Review of Public Health, 29, 253–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stuart, D. (2009). Constrained choice and ethical dilemmas in land management: Environmental quality and food safety in California agriculture. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 22(1), 53–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sykuta, M. E. (2013). The fallacy of “competition” in agriculture. In H. S. James Jr. (Ed.), The ethics and economics of agrifood competition (pp. 55–74). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Taylor, C. R. (2010, August 11). Fertilizer cartels: Market power and sustainability issues. Presentation at the annual meeting of the organization for competitive markets, Omaha.Google Scholar
  45. Taylor, C. R., & Domina, D. (2010, May 21). Restoring economic health to contract poultry production. Report prepared for the Joint U.S. Normal: Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Agriculture/GIPSA public workshop on competition issues in the poultry industry.Google Scholar
  46. Thompson, P. B. (2013). Conceptualizing fairness in the context of competition: Philosophical sources. In H. S. James Jr. (Ed.), The ethics and economics of agrifood competition (pp. 23–36). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. UNCTAD. (2006). Tracking the trend towards market concentration: The case of the agricultural input industry. Geneva: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditccom200516_en.pdf. Accessed 16 July 2006.
  48. US Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDOJ-USDA). (2010). Proceedings, public workshops exploring competition issues in agriculture. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/ag2010/iowa-agworkshop-transcript.pdf. Accessed 16 Jan 2012.
  49. Ver Ploeg, M. (2009). Access to affordable and nutritious food: Measuring and understanding food deserts and their consequences. USDA Economic Research Service, Report to Congress. http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/242675/ap036_1_.pdf. Accessed 5 Aug 2013.
  50. Wilkinson, J. (2002). The final foods industry and the changing face of the global agrofood system: Up against a new technology paradigm and a new demand profile. Sociologia Ruralis, 42, 329–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Hendrickson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Harvey James
    • 1
  • William D. Heffernan
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Applied Social SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA