In late August, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to prevent agriculture company John Deere from merging with the Monsanto-owned Precision Planting. Prosecutors allege the proposed merger would provide John Deere with an extreme competitive advantage in the area of high-speed precision planting.
According to Farm Industry News, with high-speed planting, “Belts deliver seeds to trenches without the ricochet typical of hollow seed tubes, nor tumble on trench bottoms. The cartridges and electrically-driven seed meters enable consistent spacing, population and depth.”
In a press release, Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division stated, “Precision Planting has been a key innovator in high-speed precision planting and Deere’s only significant competitor in developing and selling these technologies. If this deal were allowed to proceed, Deere would dominate the market for high-speed precision planting systems and be able to raise prices and slow innovation at the expense of American farmers who rely on these systems.”
John Deere released a statement soon after addressing the suit and proclaimed, “DOJ’s allegations about the competitive impacts of the transaction are misguided and the companies intend to defend the transaction vigorously against those allegations. Deere has long been focused on helping American farmers become more efficient and productive so that they can remain globally competitive. The proposed acquisition benefits farmers by accelerating the development and delivery of new precision equipment solutions that help farmers increase yield and productivity.”
In court papers filed last week, the companies reiterated their claim that the proposed merger will not create an advantage for Deere. In their response, Deere specifically denied “that there is any meaningful economic market consisting of ‘high-speed precision planting systems.’” The company also countered that the terms “high-speed precision planting technology” and “high-speed precision planting system,” as stated by the DOJ, are “vague and ambiguous.” The company further maintained that the merger will ultimately provide “all growers with greater freedom of choice and more independent channels and options to buy Precision Planting components. The transaction will ensure even more robust competition to provide equipment, aftermarket components, and other means to increase growers’ yields and lower costs. In short, the transaction will increase competition and promote consumer freedom by increasing the total number of market players.”
The case should go to trial next February.