Producers discuss current ag issues at DOJ/USDA workshop
Fort Collins, Colo. – During the public workshop on competition issues in the agricultural marketplaces in Fort Collins, Colo. in late August, a producer panel presented issues of particular importance to their sectors of the industry. Panel members came from across the country and included cattle feeders, hog producers, sheep producers and ranchers.
“We currently have two active packers that will visit our lot on a weekly basis,” said Allen Sents, who owns a 10,000-head capacity feedlot with his wife in central Kansas. “One big challenge weekly is to determine what kind of space we will have with those two packers we deal with. It’s common for us to hear they’ve already secured all but one or two days’ supply when they visit. When numbers swell we have serious concerns about having access to markets and being able to move our cattle.”
Wyoming organic beef producer and Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW) president Taylor Haynes added a lack of access to the retail market is another problem
“Decentralizing meat packing is the key. The HAASP rule has killed the small meat packers. You’ve got foxes watching the henhouse. You need point and source interaction and discovery, and you need to enforce the food safety rule where the contamination occurs, which is largely on the kill floor,” noted Haynes, to applause. “If we can bring the small and medium sized meatpackers back, that will bring the small and medium sized feeder back too.”
Colorado lamb feeder and farmer Mike Harper noted demand for lamb is at a record-breaking high. “The worst thing we in the sheep industry are dealing with right now is a lack of numbers. We need to figure out how to bring numbers back and increase interest in young people. We’re at the point in our industry where, if continue to lose numbers, we will probably lose another packer,” commented Harper.
Colorado cow-calf producer and one of six families cooperatively involved in Homestead Meats, Robbie LeValley has concerns as a USDA-inspected packing plant owner.
“We formed a six-family cooperative and purchased a USDA meat packing facility. Approximately one-third of all calves produced by the six families go through our plant for direct marketing. Not only are we selling directly to the consumer, we are also improving the genetics in the cattle we sell to other feedlots.
“My concern is that as you read the proposed GIPSA rules, it states there will be a ban on packer-to-packer sales and their subsidiaries, and we are a packer and it will limit our marketing options. I’m sure that wasn’t the intent of the rules, but that vagueness is one of the unintended consequences as we read the proposed rule. Banning those sales really limits our options, and all six ranching families were innovative and we took market risks, and now we are facing a restriction on trade and that is my concern – the vagueness in the proposed rules,” explained LeValley.
“Initially the packers picked off a few large entities, using supply to gain control. One big disagreement I have is with critics opposing GIPSA who say it’s all about procuring quality cattle. That has nothing to do with it. The largest supply agreements have had everything to do with supply and controlling that inventory, and nothing to do with quality cattle, and that’s been shown by numerous studies,” commented Sents, with audience support.
Secretary of Agriculture and panel moderator Tom Vilsack asked panelists about technology, young people returning to family operations and rural communities and the impacts of availability to markets.
When Vilsack asked panelists what they would like to see in five years if there was another gathering, Haynes said, “I would like for the American consumer to understand that we really are the environmentalists who care most about the land and animals on the land.”
“I want to see the freedom of independent contracts return, but also a policy that will halt the trend of concentration of size to achieve market power,” added Sents.
“There really is something at stake here, which is the livelihood of good, hardworking producers and the capacity of small, rural communities and small towns to thrive,” commented Vilsack at the end of the discussion.