Since taking office in January of 2009, Attorney General Steve Bullock has put a spotlight on agriculture at the Montana Department of Justice.
He expanded the Office of Consumer Protection, which protects all Montana consumers against fraudulent businesses dealings, to take a special look at fraud and unfair dealings in agriculture. The office hired Chuck Munson in October of 2009, a lawyer with a master’s degree in agriculture law.
Bullock led a 17-state effort to encourage the federal government in its efforts and drafted comments highlighting the states’ perspective to make sure that consolidation in agriculture markets does not inhibit Montana and other states’ farmers and ranchers trying to get a fair price for their products.
The greater effort coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Justice included a series of workshops in 2010 that brought together representatives of every facet of American agriculture, including producers, processors, retailers, economic experts, academics and government regulators. The workshops examined competition and regulatory issues in agriculture.
Bullock was asked to share his experience as Montana’s Attorney General at two of these unprecedented events.
The first workshop was held in March 20102 in Ankeny, Iowa. There, Gen. Bullock gave some sobering facts:
- In 1984, Montana had nearly 200 grain elevators – despite an increase in production, today there are less than 50.
- Nationwide, the top four beef packers now process 85 percent of our beef and the top four pork packers around 65 percent of our pork.
- And just a handful of multinationals dominate the seed and trait industry.
Another workshop was held in August 2010 in Ft. Collins, Colo. There, he talked about how market forces affect real Montanans. Consider these facts:
- Over the last 30 years, Montana has lost on average over 150 ranches a year.
- As of 2007, the average Montana rancher was 58 years old.
- Only half of Montana producers have the farm or ranch as their primary source of income.
- And 20 of Montana’s 56 counties are experiencing long-term population decline. Every one of those waning counties is significantly dependent on agriculture.
Watch his testimony.
In November of 2010, Bullock joined attorneys general in Iowa and Minnesota in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the implementation of the hallmark 1919 Packers and Stockyard Act to address vertical integration in modern meatpacking and remove legal obstacles to those seeking justice under the law. Read their letter.
In 2011, Bullock voiced his opposition to a proposed federal rule that would have required farmers, ranchers or their employees to obtain commercial driver’s licenses — arguing that such additional regulation was not needed. Read his letter.
In 2011 and 2012, Munson began working with individual farmers and ranchers facing foreclosure, helping them find ways to save their homes.
The office is also involved in ongoing cases involving railroads and ensuring fair shipping rates for Montana producers.