Probe eyes possibility of ‘co-ordinated behaviour’ in Big Ag

Competition Bureau probes majors' response to FBN's Canadian launch


By D.C. Fraser, Glacier FarmMedia

via Canadian Cattlemen - February 7, 2020


Canada’s Competition Bureau is investigating leading agriculture companies for allegedly attempting to drive a California-based online farm-supply retailer out of the Canadian market.


Documents filed in Federal Court show Federated Co-operatives, Cargill, Winfield United Canada, Univar Canada, BASF Canada Inc., Corteva and Bayer CropScience (and, by extension, Monsanto Canada) are all under investigation.


Investigators with the Competition Bureau filed the court documents as part of an application to acquire more documentation from the companies.


Farmers Business Network Canada Inc. (FBN) operates a digital ag platform under a membership model, allowing growers to buy memberships and provide data to the company in exchange for data-related services such as agronomic advice and price comparison tools.


Membership also allows farmers to purchase crop inputs from FBN, which according to court documents, “may offer relatively low prices compared to other retailers enabled by efficiencies from FBN’s business model.”


The company confirmed it made a complaint to the Competition Bureau in the fourth quarter of 2018.


Founded in 2014, FBN has been selling crop inputs through its e-commerce platform in the United States since 2016 and entered Canada in November 2017 when it purchased a Saskatchewan-based retailer, Yorkton Distributors.


A senior officer on a team of competition law officers at the bureau provided an affidavit as part of the court application.


“Some of these parties may have engaged in communications that are suggestive of co-ordinated behaviour in relation to FBN,” the affidavit read.


Furthermore, it said, “FBN is effectively unable to sell all branded crop protection products and is limited to sale of generic products, which represent a small minority of overall sales in Western Canada.”


The officer suggests this may impede or delay FBN’s successful expansion in the Canadian market — or cause them to exit it altogether.


‘Higher costs, less choice’ ...