The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Brooke Miller, a cattle producer from Washington, Virginia. He currently serves as the Vice President of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.
Like most ranchers, I am not too keen on leaving the ranch and getting involved in politics and policy. In fact, if I hadn’t bumped into Jess Peterson at a bull sale in southern Virginia a few years back, I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA). After we chatted, I realized we had a lot on the table that needed to be addressed, and we ought not squander the opportunity to make some positive changes.
The last few months have witnessed a whirlwind of activity as it relates to the US cattle industry. The fire at Holcomb was really the canary in the coal mine that revealed a greater set of problems facing the current state of U.S. cattle production. It’s no secret we need to enhance competition and true price discovery, and we can certainly improve the cattle contract and the CME cattle futures ‘board’ functions.
Shane Eaton recently testified on behalf of USCA before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, outlining simple steps that could immediately improve the state of cattle marketing. Every five years Congress revises, improves, and passes a Farm Bill in rare bi-partisan fashion. Similar to that process, Congress is reviewing and revising the Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR) program and it too will have bi-partisan support. U.S. Cattle producers and cattle feeders agree that it’s essential to improve any long-standing government program, notably MPR, and have provided simple recommendations for doing so. This includes creating a native and non-native cattle definition as it links to MPR, essentially adding transparency and a minor function to increase competition. Congress can make this improvement without a great deal of debate and opposition. We ought not squander this opportunity.
USDA is conducting an investigation regarding buying practices and actions of the large meat packers. We appreciate Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach and GIPSA staff for their commitment and effort to investigate any wrong doing. USCA members have relayed questionable activities, and I take Secretary Perdue and Under Secretary Ibach at their word that a complete and full investigation will be completed. This investigation will reveal strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to improve competition and true price discovery as it links to the marketing and purchasing fat cattle. We ought not squander this opportunity.
Chances are, the majority of cattle producers and feeders won’t read this article. They simply don’t have the time to read every piece of news and commentary published. However, USCA was pleased that producers and feeders across the country, regardless of association involvement, joined together and rallied to support #FairCattleMarkets on Twitter. There is nothing better than folks rallying to bring about positive change.
With that said, when industry leaders and journalists do get the attention of America’s hard-working ranchers and cattle feeders, we must stay positive and examine the actual proposals on the table and accept the fact that improvements to government programs are always needed. No one in our industry embraces excessive government regulation, but referees are needed on the field. Let’s make sure government oversight officials have current and accurate rule books to work from. Capitalism and free markets are the strength of this country, but this isn’t the first time that we’ve addressed monopolies and anti-trust problems and we no doubt will have to do so again in the future.
It’s important to note, no matter what side of the debate you are on, there is no value in claiming bias, special interest ties, or innuendos and character attacks on the opposition. When ranchers and cattle feeders read the day’s news and reports, there needs to be a positive dialogue. We ought not squander the opportunity.