A survey of farm bankers in the Upper Midwest is not very optimistic. The bankers work in Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and northwestern Wisconsin … areas hard hit in recent years by weather calamities. Fifty-three percent of the bankers believe the region's farm economy will continue to decline and capital purchases will drop.
From farm gate to board room, agricultural interests are restructuring to cope with changing times. A corporate case in point was revealed this week when one of the nation's largest food companies announced it was bailing on the meat business.
In what appears to be a departure from the popular vertical integration model of the 90s, ConAgra Foods is selling 54% of its meatpacking division. Burdened by mounting debt, the nation's number two food processor has indicated it may even sell its other farm-related divisions.
Company officials have described the move as their way of making the company more profitable in the future. The recall of 19 million pounds of the company's E. coli-tainted ground beef has not helped the company's shaky financial position.
(Slug USDA Meat inspectors)
The sale comes just as the USDA is planning to toughen food safety policies. The department is poised to begin random testing for E. coli in meat processing plants across the U.S..
The new regulations are a response to the increase of E. coli contaminated meat products making it past the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points barricade.
Department officials do not know the reason for the increase in contamination but want the deadly bacterium totally eliminated from the food stream.
Consumer groups are hailing the move as a good start while meatpackers are claiming the goal is unattainable.
The new regulations are expected to take effect in the next few weeks.