COMMENT/Art Cullen

The right sentiment

Give Midwestern senators gold stars for proposing a moratorium on mergers in agribusiness. Led by Minnesota's Paul Wellstone, they must have known full well that their bill didn't stand a chance.

The group of 27 senators in the closing week of Congress voted for an 18-month moratorium on agribusiness mergers. Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, probably spoke for most when he said that his vote was intended to send a message to the Justice Department to pay more attention to agriculture.

"Of course, with that lack of competition it's no wonder that family farmers believe their independence and access to the competitive marketplace is becoming a thing of the past," Grassley said.

Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Nebraska, said concentration is among the biggest worries that he hears about from farm constituents. "Concentration of agribusiness is anti-competitive and threatens our survival and that of the communities in which we live," Kerrey said.

Congress is not about to meddle in this area, and it maybe it shouldn't. The Justice Department proved in the Microsoft case that the laws are already on the books. Agriculture is supposed to enjoy special protection. But the Clinton Administration has done precious little to stop the tide sweeping Rural America.

While we may appreciate the sentiment expressed on the Senate floor, the debate comes too late. The seed companies already are in with the giant chemical companies. Meatpacking has been dominated by the Big Four the better part of 20 years. The poultry industry is fully integrated and pork is right on its way. We doubt that anyone in Washington will notice when the next cooperative folds in with the neighbor, or when the next farmer picks up another 80 acres.

Agriculture is a mature industry, as they say. The march of technology, and the drive for profit among thinning margins, create a thirst for consolidation that cannot be slaked.

Congress certainly cannot stop it. The Justice Department obviously cares not to. At least it is comforting to know that 27 senators are listening and care. That's what this week's vote meant in the end. -- Art Cullen

SPEAKING OF CONGLOMERATES: This is kind of scary: Time Warner executives Gerald Levins and Richard Parker decided that the media goliath would not donate soft-money to political parties anymore. Such contributions, they said, "are increasingly distorting the electoral process." It's their shareholders' money, of course, but we get a little nervous when a couple guys who control so much speech decide what democracy should look like. Is Disney/ABC next?

A winner departs

Football coaches come and football coaches go. We lost someone special this week with the announced departure of Joe Hadachek, sideline boss for the Buena Vista Beavers over the past four years.

After taking a losing program and putting it near the top of the Iowa Conference, Hadachek decided to hang up the cleats and take a full-time job selling diet supplements. We wish him all the best, while kicking a fair amount of dirt.

He revived a winning program, yes. That helped to fill the stands. BV football became more of a community event on Saturday afternoons. The BV Booster Club tailgate area was packed for every game.

Support for the program didn't come just through victories. Hadachek reached out to the community and solicited support. He visited schools, coached children, promoted the program in the media.

In so doing, Hadachek has done as much as anyone to enhance the town-and-gown relationship. That was his best accomplishment.

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