The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice announced joint public workshops to explore competition issues affecting the agriculture industry and the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement.
The first workshop will be held in early 2010. Some of the workshops may be held in Washington, DC, while others will be held regionally.
The workshops will provide examples of potentially anticompetitive conduct and provide an opportunity for discussion among farmers, ranchers agribusinesses and other parties about the potential application of the antitrust laws to the agricultural industry.
"It is important to have a fair and competitive marketplace that benefits agriculture, rural economies and American consumers," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has called for an investigation into whether a single dairy processor has a monopoly on milk sold by New England dairy farmers. Sanders said that 70 percent of the milk sold in New England is processed by one company, according to the Associated Press.
Dairy farmers in Vermont and elsewhere have complained that milk prices paid by processors have fallen below the cost of production, pushing many farmers to the brink of financial ruin.
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch said the dairy crisis could have serious consequences for the state's feed dealers, farm equipment suppliers, processing plants and creditors.