Iowa attorney general to investigate fertilizer prices

By: - February 24, 2022 6:03 pm

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller speaks during an online news conference Nov. 30, 2021. (Screen shot from Zoom call)

Iowa’s top legal officer said Thursday he will investigate the sky-high fertilizer prices that are plaguing farmers and are predicted to reduce corn production in the upcoming growing season.

Attorney General Tom Miller’s office routinely investigates antitrust suspicions, when companies inflate prices and their profits through a lack of competition. But he said those suspicions are not a main thrust of the new investigation, which he described as a market study.

“It’s possible that these increases could be legal, but not justified, not right,” Miller told reporters on Thursday.

He listed several types of fertilizers that have doubled or tripled in price in the past year and said he has solicited information from a handful of major fertilizer manufacturers to justify the increases.

The investigation is expected to last several months and will be expedited because “the growing season is upon us,” Miller said. What might result from it is unclear, but he said he hopes the mere act of shedding light on the topic might deter any undue inflation of prices.

He cited research that found fertilizer costs for farmers often increased in years that followed higher profits for farmers.

“There may some sort of a general understanding, without any direct communication (among fertilizer producers), that when farmers do well one year, the price of fertilizer goes up significantly the next year,” Miller said. “If that’s what’s going on, we want to find out about that. That may not be illegal, but it’s not a good policy. … That’s something the court of public opinion might have some say on.”

Farmers reported late last year that they were being quoted fertilizer prices that were up to six times higher than the previous year’s. Agriculture experts have said the increases might have a muted effect on corn production in Iowa — where yields are high enough to justify the extra expenditures — but that farmers in other states with less-productive soils might opt to plant other crops.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, during a separate discussion with reporters, praised Miller’s investigation and said his department would assist it “to make sure that there is an understanding of all the forces behind increases in fertilizer costs and making sure that farmers are not being taken advantage of.”

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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