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Like a Family

Billings, MT | Let’s answer the question: “Why should I belong to any organization?”

Now there’s one word that best describes America’s cattle and sheep farmers and ranchers. That word would be “independent.”

If you could add another word, it would be “fiercely.” In other words, America’s cattle and sheep farmers and ranchers are fiercely independent. That means they’re least likely to belong to any organization.

So now this brings up a second and obvious question: “Could it be that the reason there are so few cattle and sheep farmers and ranchers left in the United States is because most of them haven’t joined and supported an organization that represents their industry?”

Now Theodore Roosevelt – Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, was an icon of independent men. He was a New Yorker, educated at Harvard, and had a ranch in North Dakota. He gained his Rough Rider reputation in the Spanish-American War and was the 26th President of the United States. He also revived the then ignored Sherman Antitrust Act and earned the title Trust Buster by breaking up monopolies.

So, Teddy, the independent Rough Rider, said this:

“Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has the moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.”

Of course, today, Teddy’s message would be directed at both men and women. And that message was not just a suggestion … it was a call to duty.

To Teddy, joining and supporting an organization that strives to improve the industry a person is engaged in was a moral imperative … it was an obligation born by every man and woman engaged in, and in our case, the cattle and sheep industries.

But most of America’s cattle and sheep farmers and ranchers have ignored their moral imperative for decades.

Here’s some proof: There are two major cattle associations in the United States. The largest is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which claims about 25,000 members. The next largest is R-CALF USA, and we claim about 5,000 members.

That means that between the two largest cattle associations, our combined members represent only about 4 percent of the nation’s 729,000 cattle producers, with the NCBA representing just over 3 percent and R-CALF USA representing less than 1 percent.

Let’s put this in perspective: The entire industry is concerned that the fed cattle cash market had shrunk to a level too low to establish a competitive price for cattle. It shrank to about 20 percent, which means only 20 percent of the cattle offered for sale set the price for 100 percent of the cattle sold each week. Now everyone knows this is a huge problem, there just isn’t a consensus on how to address it.

But on a policy level, with just 4 percent of cattle producers competing to set good policy through their respective organizations for 100 percent of the nation’s cattle farmers and ranchers - about three-quarters of a million of them – well, it’s not likely that the interests of the vast majority of the nation’s cattle farmers and ranchers are being represented at all.

Think about this. Only a tiny percentage of America’s cattle producers are represented at all by the two largest cattle associations. So whichever of the two organizations has the most members, that’s the one who will set policy for everyone.

And that’s who has set policy for everyone. And those policies set by this tiny fraction of producers over the past few decades have resulted in the loss of over 43 percent of our nation’s cattle producers; a long-term loss of about 7 million mother cows from our cattle herd (and when I say long-term I mean not the result of periodic droughts); a loss of 77 percent of our independent feedlots; and industry profitability on a scale that has been too low to attract sufficient numbers of new participants to ensure the long term viability of our industry.

And think about this further. I mentioned there isn’t a consensus regarding how to address the ultra-thin cash market. R-CALF USA says it’s time to force the largest beef packers to begin competing for at least half of their cattle, the other organization tells Congress to leave the cattle market alone. I wonder what the majority of the nation’s cattle producers want. They’re certain to get one or the other, whether they like it or not.

But there is a solution to this … cattle producers can fulfill the duty assigned to them long ago by Teddy Roosevelt by joining and supporting the organization of their choice.

Think of it like a family. In your family everyone projects a set of values that will ultimately keep the family strong. So, find an organization that embodies the values you embrace, and with your membership and support, make it strong!

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R-CALF USA’s weekly opinion/commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle industry and rural America.

Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle and sheep industries. Visit or call 406-252-2516 for more information.


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