WASHINGTON, DC — On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House and Senate agriculture committees examined the cattle industry.
With four meat processing plants controlling more than 85% of the market, most senators on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee agree: something has to be done, but it is the handshake stops.
On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee heard from two USDA employees, an agricultural economist and four ranchers, including a US senator and Shawn Tiffany, a rancher from Herington, Kansas.
Tiffany, who is president-elect of the Kansas Livestock Association and co-owner of the Tiffany Cattle Company, said he wants change, but not the change proposed by the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act (S.4030) with additional oversight by through the Office of the Special Investigator Bill (S.3870).
“Market transparency of price discovery, access to additional processing presence, and proper oversight of county markets are important to me and to all cattle producers,” Tiffany said. “However, none of the bills discussed today represent the right approach to these issues. I oppose these bills and ask the committee not to move forward either.”
Tiffany said the vast majority of cow producers oppose the government’s mandate. He said he believes livestock producers should have the flexibility to market their livestock as they see fit without arbitrary restrictions imposed by the federal government.
“The cattle in our feedlots are owned by other cattlemen. They placed their guy with us and we provide them with feed and care during the finishing stage,” Tiffany said. “One of the services we provide to our customers is marketing their livestock, and they are ready for harvest.”
Tiffany works with several packers using several different marketing methods to maximize the value its customers receive for their “high quality livestock”.
“A mandatory minimum level of negotiated trade will limit my ability to maximize the value my customers have received for their livestock,” he said. “Additionally, a packager mandate will require packagers to discontinue certain alternative marketing programs to meet minimum negotiated trade mandates.”
By doing this, he said, his customers will lose their ability to access value-added marketing. Tiffany and her brother have built their business from 10 to over 200 clients, he said they did this by having access to quality premium programs.
“Not only has our own business grown, but also that of our customers, because AMAs have allowed them to get paid for cattle of exceptional quality,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany said it uses fewer total greenhouse gas emissions. This program requires an AMA to facilitate the supply chain coordination needed to connect these products to consumers willing to pay for this certification.
It also has a high percentage of non-hormone treated cattle and natural programs.
These labels rely on AMAs to ensure that the livestock producer who has incurred the extra expense to obtain this certification is assured of access to a market willing to pay for this added value.
Like Tiffany, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., doesn’t want more regulation on the industry, saying there would be “unintended consequences” on producers. Marshall also spoke to the audience about his concerns about industry consolidation.
He believes the cause was over-regulation and the solutions are to eliminate burdensome regulations, more accurately label beef and allow interstate shipments of state-inspected meat.
“When this government starts pumping in more money and forming more committees, what are some of the unintended consequences of that?” said Marshal. “Why do you think it is necessary to establish an entirely new office within the USDA?”
Seeking legislation to pass, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said this bill was a good compromise, noting that several senators have tried for years to introduce bills that would help producers.
“It’s not a new problem. It’s not a COVID problem,” Fischer said. “It’s been there for years.”
Fischer said she was unable to get Nebraska ranchers to speak at the hearing for fear of retaliation.
Although Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, admitted his state of New Jersey doesn’t have a lot of cattle, he agreed with Fischer.
“Nearly half of our ranchers have been forced to sell their herds and land, land that in many cases has been passed down from generation to generation by their families,” Booker said. “It’s big US markets that have been forced out of business by this group, this increasing consolidation of these multinational corporations, including four for packaging companies, Tyson, Cargill, JBS and National Beef have corrupted the market using unfair and illegal practices.
Testifying on behalf of the bill, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said farms have also shrunk dramatically where he grew up.
“Rural America is drying up because we can’t get fair prices on the farm,” he said. “Consumers pay higher prices because without competition they are (prices) set without regard to what people can afford. Please do the right thing for people like me who want to pass on the family farm to the children.”
Earlier this year, Tester helped introduce the Agriculture Right to Repair Act to give farmers the option to repair their own equipment. He also worked on the American Beef Labeling Act, a beef labeling bill that ensures only beef raised in the United States is labeled as such.
In related topics, Marshall also introduced meat processing and labeling legislation, including the Bona Fide Beef Branding Act to address labeling and Feed America by Incentivizing Rural (FAIR) Meat Pacing Act. to create tax incentives for the construction of smaller and medium-sized enterprises. meat processing plants.
The House Agriculture Committee spoke Wednesday about a review of price differentials, transparency and alleged unfair practices in livestock markets.
U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, R-Kan., said price transparency is important to ranchers in Kansas.
“Across the country, cattle producers continue to face challenging market dynamics, including historically wide spreads between wholesale beef prices and fed cattle prices, packaging capacity and regulations, and more. again,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to hundreds of Kansas cattle producers, ranging from small cow/calf operations to some of the largest feedlots in the country. Overwhelmingly, I’ve heard that we need to increase price discovery in the spot market, ensure producers benefit when they provide a premium product, refuse to let government interfere in the free market, and recognize regional differences.
Tester will deliver a speech in the Senate Thursday morning on the consolidation of corporate agriculture and its effects on producers and communities in rural America as well as its impacts on retail food prices for consumers. He will also advocate for the Meat Packaging Special Investigators Act and the Livestock Price Discovery and Transparency Act.