More capacity, not more regulation, may be the direction ag lawmakers take in dealing with cattle market concentration and wildly divergent cattle and beef prices. Senate Ag Chair Debbie Stabenow says dramatic differences of opinion were expected at last week’s hearing on the cause of high beef prices for major packers and low prices to small producers. But is the answer more regulation, or more competition? Stabenow says, “I also think it’s important to look at what Secretary Vilsack is doing. We had given him dollars to address the supply chain issues in the Recovery Act, or the Rescue Plan, I should say. And, so, he’s looking at how to support small processors, regional processors and so on, and so, we just, we need more resilience and more competition in the marketplace.”
Vilsack recently announced a $55 (B) billion grant program to expand and help plants qualify for federal inspection or state approval for interstate shipment. Some have bills to do more of that. Others like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley want the government to force competition by upping negotiated cash pricing to half of cattle sales, while the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association wants flexibility in trades. Senate Ag Republican Mike Braun of Indiana says ultimately, there must be more players in the market, saying, “More entities within all fields of enterprise and competition. And we’ve got to make sure that we have policies here, in place, that don’t encourage just a few in any given sector. That’s when you get oligopolies, you get prices going up, never coming down, and it’s not true competition.”
Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind meantime expected another USDA announcement earlier this week during President Biden’s and Vilsack’s trip to Wisconsin. But the White House dropped agriculture from the agenda and Vilsack did not attend.