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By the Pro Farmer editors

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack wants the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure seed companies and other input suppliers are not using their market power and current conditions to raise prices unfairly. "It's important for us to ask questions about whether all of these increases, every penny of these increases, is justified based on disruptions, based on supply, based on the normal economics," Vilsack said during an appearance at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture's (NASDA) 2022 Winter Policy Conference. He told the nation's state agriculture commissioners on Wednesday that if input companies cannot justify current pricing, "then shame on anybody who's trying to take advantage of this circumstance."

Vilsack acknowledged the volume of challenges weighing on the ag sector, mentioning supply chains, animal disease threats and rising input costs, but stressed his confidence in the "capacity of American agriculture" to overcome them. Vilsack said higher input costs are tightly linked to broader pandemic-driven supply chain woes, with heavy demand running up against scarce supplies.

A lot of these factors are things that the department of Agriculture, whether at the state level or at the federal level, is not in a position to provide much assistance," he said. However, he said USDA's other moves aimed at creating and expanding market opportunities for farmers and ranchers through climate-smart ag and new export markets can support higher commodity prices and help producers "withstand some of these shocking [input] prices that they're currently facing."

Vilsack's comments come as DOJ and the FBI today are scheduled to announce a new initiative to look at finding companies that are exploiting supply chain disruptions in the U.S. to make increased profits, violating U.S. antitrust laws. The U.S. has also formed a working group on supply chain collusion with countries like the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada to share intelligence and root out global efforts on that front.

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