BOZEMAN — The nation’s cattle markets were in the spotlight during a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. Livestock producers and industry leaders focused on transparency, processing capacity, price discovery and oversight with the cattle markets and beef processing.
Todd Wilkinson, a South Dakota rancher and the Vice President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told committee members that cattle production is challenging, and even in a good year, the differences between making a profit and a loss depend upon factors outside of their control.
“Cattle production is inherently challenging,” Wilkinson stated. “Even in a good year, the differences between making a profit and a loss depend upon factors outside of the ranchers' and farmers' control. Let me be clear. The past few years have been anything but good. As producers struggled to get by, the large Meat Packers rake in record-breaking profits. Profits that have not been equitably shared with cattle, producers.”
Wilkinson cited several factors impacting profit.
“The current marketing situation brought on by COVID, cybersecurity, packing plant fires, countless other factors, have even the most seasoned industry veterans asking for changes,” Wilkinson told Congress. “Something has to give.”
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified on what USDA is doing to increase meat processing capacity in the countryside through a $500 million fund to support packing plant growth for small and medium-sized plants.
“We have solicited information and input from those who are interested in potentially utilizing this fund,” said Vilsack. “The expectation is that that structure will take place sometime before the end of the year and that will begin to make decisions and investments hopefully in the first quarter of 2022.”
In the area of Negotiated Cash Cattle Trade, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also testified about the bill he and Montana Sen. Jon Tester sponsored. The bill would require 50% negotiated cash trade nationally. It would require meat packers to halve their cattle within 14 days of slaughter, dubbed the 50/14 bill.
With multiple issues discussed in the hearing, each aspect of the testimony impacts Montana farmers and ranchers involved in livestock production.