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The Wolf Parable

Commentary by Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA


Billings, MT | I learned in church that a parable is a story with intent – and there’s one parable reportedly told in Native American culture about the essence of two competing wolves residing in every emotional being. One is good and compassionate; the other greedy and spiteful. A question from a child arises in the story as to which of the two wolves wins the competition to control the person’s attitudes and actions. And the answer from the elder is, “It’s the one you feed.”

Now this parable can be applied to many situations. For example, if there are competing trade associations purporting to represent your industry: one a strong advocate for policies you support, and the others strong advocates for policies contrary to your interests, the one that will win the competition for the adoption of the competing policies will be the trade association that receives the most support from its industry participants.

So, yes! That’s how the real world works.

So, let’s look at how this applies to the U.S. cattle industry, which is an industry that in just over a generation has lost 43%, or more than four out of every ten cattlemen and women; has shrunk the size of its national mother cow herd by 22%; and has lost 77% of all its feedlots, or marketing outlets.

What this means is that the industry’s competitive infrastructure is being dismantled right before our eyes. When we lose the critical mass of competitive infrastructure, and for our industry it’s the number of participants, number of beef cows, and number of marketing outlets, or feedlots, then it’s essentially game over. Competition will be forever lost, food security will be threatened, and opportunities for current farmers and ranchers and aspiring farmers and ranchers will vanish, which will mean even fewer inhabitants in rural America.

We know this is true because it’s already happened in the hog, sheep, and poultry industries.

And this means one thing: If we don’t initiate meaningful and aggressive reforms, and I mean meaningful and aggressive policy changes, and if we don’t do it quickly – like in the 2023 Farm Bill – we may forever lose our chance.

And most Americans will soon be eating imported beef produced under who knows what kind of conditions. You think that’s far off? Just look at our sister sheep industry where 74% of the lamb consumed in America is now imported!

So, what does everyone need to do?

First: Decide whether you want the U.S. cattle industry to keep collapsing as it is until it’s ultimately controlled from birth to plate by just a handful of multinational corporations.

Second: If you decide you want to save the U.S. cattle industry as we know it today, then decide on what major policy changes you want to support.

Third: Seek out the association that supports the policy changes you want, that shares your desire to strengthen, not dismantle, your U.S. cattle industry; and that shares your desire to preserve rural America and all her rural communities.

And finally: You really need to begin supporting that association, both with your membership dues and with your financial contributions. And, when asked, you must engage in the political process by affirmatively expressing your desires to your elected officials.

This is the way – the only way – that you can choose which wolf in the old story will win.

To help you decide who to support, I won’t disparage the other competing trade associations, but I will tell you the policies R-CALF USA is fighting for to save the U.S. cattle industry:

  • The American Beef Labeling Act, S. 52, that will inform consumers as to the country of origin of the beef they buy for their families.

  • The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act or OFF Act that will end the corruption and misuse of mandatory beef checkoff dollars.

  • We strongly support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rulemaking process to end anticompetitive practices in our industry by implementing the over 100-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act.

  • We want limits on imported cattle and beef to ensure the U.S. cattle industry has an opportunity to be profitable and to expand.

  • We will continue our class action antitrust lawsuit against the multinational beef packers in which we allege they have artificially depressed cattle prices for producers and inflated beef prices for consumers.

  • We are fighting to put an end to the megamergers that are creating monopolies all along the food supply chain and threatening food security for all Americans.

So, there it is. If you want to stay the present course and watch the U.S. cattle industry become smaller and smaller, that is certainly your choice and you don’t need to do anything. However, if you want to preserve this industry for yourselves, be you a producer or consumer, then you must act – you must begin supporting the association that is fighting for your values.


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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.

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America) 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 industry. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.

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