Missouri Minute: Regulators probe potential milk merger; House passes bill targeting wind line

Good morning, MBA readers,

Have you had your milk today? And we mean dairy milk — not almond milk, soy milk or oat milk. For an increasing number of people, the answer to that question is likely no. With the emergence of new milk alternatives and shifts in consumer preference, old-school dairy processors are dwindling. Milk consumption per capita is down 41% since 1975. In the past 50 years, the number of U.S. milk farms has fallen from half a million to about 37,000.

That number could drop even more with a potential merger between Dean Foods and Dairy Farmers of America. Dallas-based Dean Foods, one of the biggest milk processors in the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November, resulting in talks of a merger with Kansas City’s DFA. Some farm groups fear the combined company could grab control of the dairy market — DFA is the largest dairy cooperative in the country. Although the two companies are still courting each other, federal regulators have already begun to investigate what the merger would do to dairy prices, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Today’s newsletter starts with milk and ends with cereal: A special, Chiefs-themed boxed breakfast is flying off the shelves in Kansas City. Read on for those stories and the rest of the day’s top business news.

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Grain Belt Express gets thumbs down in Missouri House
The Missouri House has passed a bill that would prohibit private companies from using eminent domain to build above-ground power lines. If passed by the Senate, House Bill 2033 could jeopardize construction of the controversial Grain Belt Express, a $2.3 billion wind power transmission line that would stretch across more than 200 miles and eight Missouri counties. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Missouri bills would recognize occupational licenses from other states
The House gave preliminary approval to a pair of bills that would recognize occupational licenses granted in other states. One of the proposals specifically addresses military spouses. The other would apply to all occupations and individuals who have had their license for more than a year. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Antitrust regulators probe potential DFA-Dean Foods merger
The U.S. Department of Justice has begun investigating the economic implications of a potential merger between Kansas City-based Dairy Farmers of America and Texas-based Dean Foods. Officials reportedly are in talks with farmers and retailers about the impact of such a deal on dairy prices and competition. Dean Foods, the biggest U.S. milk producer by sales, reportedly has been in talks with DFA about a potential acquisition since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November. (Wall Street Journal)

A-B InBev pledges age-restriction labels on drinks
Anheuser-Busch InBev has joined 11 other leading makers of beer, wine and spirits and pledged to put clear age-restriction labels on drinks by 2024. The companies also agreed to tighter safeguards for at least 95% of their online alcohol marketing. (Reuters)

Lambert traffic is up 1.6%, but the airport still lags behind rest of US
St. Louis Lambert International Airport served 15.9 million passengers last year, up 1.6% from 2018, officials said. The growth lags behind the 4.1% bump in the number of passengers on U.S. airlines in 2019. (St. Louis Business Journal)

MoDOT hopes to fight high turnover with raises
The Missouri Department of Transportation hopes to implement a 1.85% pay bump for most of its employees this year to offset a high level of staff turnover. About 700 workers left the agency in fiscal year 2018, which cost an estimated $37 million in training. Officials say MoDOT is on track to lose up to 15% of its staff this year. (St. Louis Public Radio)

St. Louis pet food company acquires California firm
Whitebridge Pet Brands, which sells natural pet foods, has acquired California-based Cardinal Pet Care, which makes pet grooming products, treats and remedies. Whitebridge said the deal will help accelerate growth in the combined company. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Boston Market pulls out of KC area
The fast-casual restaurant chain, which once had more than a dozen stores in the Kansas City area, has closed the last of its locations in the market. The closures of two area stores come as the Colorado-based company undertakes a nationwide reduction of its locations. (Kansas City Star)

Nixa firm scores $40 million to boost rural broadband
Total Highspeed LLC has won $40.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the agency’s ReConnect pilot program to boost broadband access in rural areas. The funding, which is half loan and half grant, is earmarked for a fiber-to-the-premises network in rural Greene County. (Springfield Business Journal)

Lawmakers to investigate allegations of bias in state auditor’s office
During a budget hearing on Tuesday, State Auditor Nicole Galloway faced allegations of political bias in her audit of former Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office. A House committee is set to hold a hearing Wednesday to further investigate the issue, which was first raised by Hawley, now a U.S. Senator. The allegations come as Galloway, a Democrat, ramps up her bid for governor in November. (Columbia Missourian)

St. Louis lawmaker proposes training unemployed residents for city jobs
St. Louis Alderman Annie Rice on Tuesday proposed an initiative to use the city’s job training agency to prepare unemployed residents to fill hundreds of vacant positions. The city currently has about 670 unfilled jobs. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

KC-area hospital looks to Children’s Mercy for additional staffing
A new partnership will bring neonatal specialists with Children’s Mercy Kansas City to Olathe Health for on-site support beginning May 1. (Kansas City Business Journal)

St. Louis ag research firm partners with Bill Gates-backed startup
IN10T has entered a multi-year partnership with Pivot Bio, a Berkley, California-based company that takes nitrogen from the air to fertilize crops. IN10T will provide data collection and farmer feedback as part of Pivot Bio’s commercialization effort. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Startup spun out of SLU research raises $30M in series A funding
BioIntervene, a San Diego-based startup born out of research by a Saint Louis University professor, has closed on a $30 million Series A funding round. The company, which plans to launch clinical trials for a non-addictive painkiller later this year, will use the funds to accelerate development of its drug portfolio. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Branson resort hires new GM
Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center has named Jon Davidson, a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry, as its new general manager. Davidson most recently served as president and COO of Shangri-La Golf Club, Resort & Marina in Monkey Island, Oklahoma. He succeeds John Parker, who was promoted to regional director of operations in Kansas City for Chateau parent firm Atrium Hospitality. (Springfield Business Journal)

Say that again

“Everyone’s focused on this first trial.”

That’s St. Louis attorney Paul Lesko, stressing the importance of an upcoming trial between the state’s largest peach farmer and dicamba herbicide makers Bayer and BASF, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The farmer, Bill Bader of Campbell, Missouri, sits at the center of a trial that Lesko said will likely influence all future dicamba-related cases. Bader claims that both companies were aware of dicamba’s tendency to “drift” and harm vulnerable nearby crops. They realized, Bader’s attorneys contend, that if neighboring farms were experiencing the adverse effects of the spray’s drifting, they’d be more likely to purchase dicamba-resistant seeds, also sold by Bayer and BASF. Bader’s lawyers say the chemicals have imposed damages equalling nearly $21 million to Bader’s 1,000-acre orchard since 2015. Bayer argues the damage was not due to weed-killing spray, but rather to natural causes and a rare root disease.

Go figure

$18.5 million

That’s how much Missouri owes Amtrak in unpaid bills and a service contract, Missourinet reports. MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna told lawmakers this week that the state has been accumulating debt with the train operator because requests to fund Amtrak costs have not been granted through the state budget process. He called the situation “an embarrassment.” And now, the company is charging the state 12% interest on the outstanding amount. McKenna is requesting more money to help pay the debt, which he said could endanger the future of state-subsidized services with Amtrak.

Hello, my name is

Mahomes Magic Crunch

A third shipment of the limited-edition cereal was sent to Hy-Vee grocery stores across the Kansas City area this week ahead of the Super Bowl LIV, selling for $3.99 in stores and up to almost $20 online on websites like Amazon, KCUR reports. The company says it expects to sell some 300,000 boxes of the cereal, which tastes similar to Frosted Flakes, representatives said. Some of the proceeds will go to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ charity foundation, 15 and the Mahomies, culminating in what Stephen Mosher, a sports studies professor at Ithaca College in New York, called a “win-win-win” situation. “Raise money for charity, raise one’s own ‘good citizen’ profile, and get some sports memorabilia as well. And maybe even an acceptable breakfast.”

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning.


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