As part of a series of workshops looking into the consolidation of agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced further details yesterday regarding a public workshop to be jointly held on May 21 at Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama.

The workshop will focus on consolidation and contracting practices of the poultry sector.

“We have high hopes for them,” Mike Weaver, a poultry farmer in West Virginia who raises chickens under contract for Pilgrim’s Pride, told a national wire service earlier this month. “We’ve been promised that there will be sweeping changes in these new rules, but nobody’s seen them.”

The workshops, which were first announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Aug. 5, 2009, are the first DOJ, USDA joint workshops ever to be held to discuss competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and

Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Antitrust

Division Christine Varney will participate in the Alabama workshop.

Over 700 farmers and agribusiness experts participated in the first joint public workshop, which was held in Ankeny, Iowa last month.

“The central question is: Are farmers and ranchers in this country currently getting a fair shake?” said Vilsack at the workshop. “Is the marketplace providing a fair deal for all?”

The workshops are free and open to the public. Those interested in attending the Alabama event can register. For a full transcript of the first workshop, see the Department of Justice website.

The current schedule for the workshops is as follows:

May 21, 2010: Poultry Industry (Normal, Ala.)
Specific areas of focus may include production contracts in the poultry industry, concentration, and buyer power.

Alabama A&M University
Knight Reception Center
4900 Meridian St.
Normal, Ala.

June 25, 2010: Dairy Industry (Madison, Wis.)
Specific areas of focus may include concentration, marketplace transparency, and market dynamics in the dairy industry.

University of Wisconsin
Union Theater in Memorial Union
800 Langdon St.
Madison, Wis.

Aug. 27, 2010: Livestock Industry (Fort Collins, Colo.)
This workshop will address beef, hog, and other animal sectors. Likely issues for discussion are concentration in livestock markets, buyer power, and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colo.

Dec. 8, 2010: Margins (Washington, D.C.)
This workshop will look at the discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers. As a concluding event, discussions from previous workshops will be incorporated into the analysis of agriculture markets nationally.

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Jefferson Auditorium
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C.