Policies should help producers, not hurt them, R-CALF president says

The CEO of a cattle organization offered his appreciation to independent livestock producers and also warned them of policies that may be in conflict with their livelihood.

Bill Bullard, of R-CALF USA, Billings, Montana, spoke about why America is losing its ranches, to about 50 people who attended a regional meeting Nov. 9 at Winter Livestock in Dodge City, Kansas.

“You have been told there are record profits in your industry,” he said, but added that producers probably won’t be seeing them.

He continues to champion the Country-of-Origin Labeling, which he says benefits beef producers and consumers who want to know where their meat comes from. COOL was once part of a farm bill and Bullard said even when it was partially implemented it had an effect. Profit opportunities were available earlier this decade. Producers were told that the drought played a part in the increase in prices and that had an impact at first. But just as importantly, he said, meatpacking companies were buying meat globally and putting it in cold storage as a hedge. When COOL ended, the price per head dramatically came down but the drought remained in place, which, based on conventional wisdom, would have held up prices.

Bullard’s long-term concern is about the decline in the number of cattle producers over the past 20 years. He showed charts illustrating the decline in the number of cattle operators in the past 25 years.

“Clearly we are losing independent feedlots and they are dropping like flies,” he said.

Bullard said he believes beef checkoff funds should help the industry it serves. He noted many producers within his organization are supportive of retaining the beef checkoff but prefer policies to achieve tighter oversight.

Producers pay $1 a head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle under the checkoff system started in 1985. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is the primary contractor of the checkoff program. Monies are used for a producer-funded marketing and research program designed to increase domestic and international demand for beef, according to the association. This can be done through promotion, research and new product development as well as a variety of other marketing tools. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversee the collection and spending of checkoff funds.

How checkoff money is spent has divided R-CALF USA and the NCBA for many years.

Roundtable concern

Tracy Hunt, an attorney and county commissioner from Newcastle, Wyoming, told producers to question terms such as sustainability because it may look good on paper but can eventually harm livestock producers.

Hunt questioned the motives of entities such as the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. The roundtable includes producers and producer associations, processing sector, retail companies, academia and non-government, non-commercial institutions.

He’s concerned with who actually has a “seat at the table.” Meatpackers and retailers are often at financial odds with livestock producers. He encourages producers to be independent and free from packer concentration that, he says, holds down prices.

He believes the roundtable lacks day-to-day livestock producers who can provide direct input and balance corporate interests.

“We only have the appearance of having a seat at the table,” Hunt said.

His fear is the corporate atmosphere will evolve into a “transnational system” in which there are no checks and balances, unlike a sovereign government where people vote for elected official and there are three branches—legislative, executive and judicial—to protect citizens.

Several companies and organizations have dropped out of the roundtable because of the appearance that it lacks transparency, Hunt said.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].

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