March 12 was the first Agriculture Department and Department of Justice workshop to explore competition and regulatory issues in the agricultural industry. It was the first of five that are being called the ag antitrust workshops by most people.

There has been a lot of interest in what the inquiry workshops will really accomplish or if holding such high-profile hearings will force action. Something of substance might occur, otherwise the cry comes that it was all a big waste of taxpayer money. But I still doubt the workshops will accomplish anything.

The agenda for the Ankeny, Iowa, workshop gave insight into how much "wind" is going to be expended by all the politicians and regulators during the five meetings. First, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack provided opening remarks followed by Attorney General Eric Holder and Christine Varney, Department of Justices' assistant attorney general for antitrust.

Then the agenda was for general roundtable and presentations of issues by members of Congress, government attorneys along with Vilsack and Varney. Next up was the "Seed Competition Dynamics Panel" with six panelists from government and industry. Then it was time for the "Agricultural Trends Panel" with another seven professors, Extension specialists and industry panelists. Then it was the "Enforcer Roundtable Discussion Panel" with six more attorneys and regulators. Finally, the "Public Testimony" to allow some in the audience to make brief remarks, if they were previously approved to participate.

Doesn't that sound like a fun day? And four other workshops are going to be held by the end of the year. This first one concentrated on "Issues of Concern to Farmers." The next three focus on the specific industries of poultry, dairy and livestock. The last workshop will address "margins" and look at the discrepancy between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers. 

I sat through a less than hour-long explanation and question and answer session conducted by Pioneer related to the seed competition issues, and it was "dumbed down" for ag journalists instead of lawyers. The explanation was interesting although not big news. 

I wonder how the five workshops' "information" can be assembled into something worthwhile. Will this result in the Department of Justice keeping distant from mergers and acquisitions in ag business? Will there be more oversight of companies setting prices and trying to corner markets? Will the result be new oversight with tougher regulations?
Will farmers see more income options?

We cannot forget that politicians, who won't even be in the workshop rooms, will still be heard. For example, Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder telling them to be very, very careful in messing with agricultural corporations.

As Robert's office noted, the senators "expressed concern that any review include careful consideration of any unintended consequences of government intervention in the market and that the workshops themselves not be used as a venue for public scrutiny of agricultural businesses that are already subject to existing antitrust laws."

Let's not forget the recent Supreme Court ruling that basically says corporations are not subject to limits in campaign finance. There are some huge ag companies with consumer connections. I think they might have a few bucks to invest in fighting new regulations.

So, I'm not expecting much to really happen in 2011 that helps anyone in agriculture. In my opinion, it's a big to-do that will result in nothing.