Billings MT. (R-CALF) | Near as I can tell, there are only two groups that do long range industry planning for five years into the future for the cattle or beef industries. The beef industry, which starts after live cattle enter the beef packing plant, developed a long-range plan in 2020 to cover the years 2021 through 2025. That beef industry plan was funded in large part by your government-mandated beef checkoff dollars. And because the beef checkoff program is a government speech program, the development of the long-range plan had to be done under the watchful eye of the government to ensure it said what the government wants it to say.
Now the same year the beef industry plan was issued, a non-governmental long-range plan – meaning a private plan, was developed for the cattle industry to cover the same five-year period. We, meaning R-CALF USA, developed the cattle industry’s long-range plan and it’s designed to benefit independent U.S. cattle producers whose cattle are ultimately sold to the extraordinarily profitable beef industry for processing.
Unsurprisingly, the two plans are very different. In fact, in many respects they contradict each other. And this conflict is now visible as we hit the plans’ midway point. And as we’ll see, the progress made under the cattle industry’s plan is opposed by the beef checkoff funded beef industry plan, and vice-versa.
Let’s do a quick side-by-side on the progress of the two plans.
The cattle industry plan calls for growing both domestic and export demand for beef exclusively produced from USA cattle. To do that it calls for mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef and a bill has been introduced to do just that.
But the beef industry plan is silent on MCOOL, and only talks about building demand for U.S. beef in export markets, which is what the government-speech beef checkoff program currently does. And supporters of the beef industry plan publicly oppose MCOOL for beef.
The cattle industry plan calls for increasing market competition, enforcing antitrust laws, and the Packers and Stockyards Act for independent cattle producers. Progress has been made by introducing legislation to force packers to compete for cattle and by encouraging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to write rules to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act, and by filing a lawsuit that is underway to enforce antitrust laws in the cattle market.
But the beef industry plan doesn’t even mention antitrust or even the Packers and Stockyards Act. And its only suggestion to improve competition in the cattle market is to increase packer capacity.
Now the beef industry plan calls for the adoption of traceability for all U.S. cattle and its supporters support the government’s new proposal to mandate radio frequency identification (RFID) eartags.
The cattle industry plan opposes such government overreach and states the protection of cattle producers’ freedoms and liberty is paramount. Progress has been made as the USDA was forced to withdraw its first RFID mandate and efforts are underway through the rulemaking process to do it again.
While the cattle industry plan calls for protecting the freedoms and liberties of independent cattle producers so they can decide how to run their operations, the beef industry plan calls for more control over the live cattle industry. For example, it calls for achieving national standardization of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. This is yet another beef checkoff funded program and cattle producers have filed a lawsuit that addresses the BQA program by arguing it's a program that specifically benefits beef packers.
The cattle industry plan calls for an end of beef packer purchasing practices that harm independent cattle producers, such as the use of unpriced formula contracts that remove large volumes of cattle from the price discovery market. Several new academic papers and reports have now been published demonstrating the harm to cattle producers from such procurement practices.
The beef industry plan does not address the cattle procurement practices of the beef packers. And supporters of the beef industry plan oppose the reforms called for in the cattle industry plan.
So why even have a long-range plan if the two plans are in direct conflict with each other on such basic issues as the structure of the market, whether more market competition is needed, whether America should promote its own beef both at home and abroad, and whether independent cattle producers should have the freedom and liberty to adopt the production practices of their choosing?
The answer should be obvious. If the cattle industry hadn’t developed its own long-range plan, then when the big packers or government tells you to jump, your only option would be to ask how high.
So, keep an eye on our plan’s ongoing progress. You see, we want cattle producers to become profitable just as beef industry participants already are.
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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.