Competition Bureau probing big ag chem companies

Probe to look at firms' response to FBN's arrival in Canada

Charles Baron and partners brought FBN to Canada in 2018 when it bought Saskatchewan-based Yorkton Distributors. (FBN video screengrab via YouTube)

Reuters — The Canadian Competition Bureau said on Thursday it was investigating certain agriculture companies for alleged anticompetitive practices over allegations of trying to block an online farm-supply startup from doing business in Western Canada.

The regulator did not provide details on specific companies involved in the probe, but documents filed on Jan. 30 in Federal Court show Bayer, Corteva and BASF were among those that were being investigated following a complaint from California-based online retailer Farmers Business Network (FBN).

Farm-supply wholesalers, including Cargill and Univar Solutions, are also being probed, the court documents show, confirming an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal.

The Competition Bureau said in its court filings it was seeking records and communications from the seed, pesticide and wholesaling companies involved in the probe who are alleged to have stopped supplying FBN’s newly acquired Canadian business in 2018, and some company officials urged farmers and others in the industry not to do business with the company.

Founded in 2014, FBN is developing an online marketplace that allows farmers to order crop inputs like pesticides, seed and other agricultural supplies. The company, which has been selling crop inputs through its e-commerce platform in the United States since 2016, entered Canada in November 2017.

The regulator told the court it believed the alleged conduct by the identified agriculture companies under inquiry is preventing FBN from selling branded crop inputs.

“The foregoing may impede or delay FBN’s successful expansion into the Canadian market place and/or may cause FBN to exit the Canadian market place altogether,” the regulator wrote in its court filings.

U.S. seeds and agricultural chemicals maker Corteva said it was aware of the Competition Bureau’s investigation and that it was reviewing the inquiry and intends to fully co-operate with the regulator.

Bayer also said it was co-operating with the bureau.

“We believe the actions we took in this matter fully comply with Canada’s competition law,” Bayer said.

In a statement, Cargill said it was fully co-operating with the Competition Bureau’s investigation.

“Cargill conducts business in a legal, ethical and responsible manner in each country where we do business – and Canada is no exception,” the company said.

BASF Canada, in a separate statement, confirmed the bureau is gathering information from it and “a number of entities.”

The company said it “has not contravened the Competition Act and are confident that we can address any concerns that the Commissioner of Competition may have in connection with the inquiry.”

— Reporting for Reuters by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa and Arundhati Sarkar in Bangalore; additional reporting by Shanti Nair in Bangalore.


Stories from our other publications