Buyer Power in the Beef Industry
Agricultural supply chains in the United States include hundreds or thousands of farmers and large agribusinesses that process and distribute the produce. Following a series of mergers over the past five decades, the farmers that contribute to the production of meat and grain each have the option of selling to only four predominant buyers, with the buyers varying by product. Given the disparity between the sizes of individual farmers and the agribusinesses, it is natural to wonder whether transaction prices reflect the marginal value of farmers’ product, as they would in a competitive market, or whether agribusinesses are able to exercise oligopsony power to artificially depress prices. These concerns are particularly salient now, given indictments for price-fixing and anticompetitive practices in the meatpacking industry. Yet farm bankruptcies have increased each year for the past decade. This project will study oligopsony power in cattle markets by quantifying the market power of the packers, assessing the causes and consequences of the market power, and examining how it has changed over the past two decades. Outcomes of interest include the degree of local market concentration, plant-specific mark-ups and the mechanisms that support the mark-ups, and evaluation of specific mergers.