BILLINGS, Mont., Sept. 18, 2023 – Last week, the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND) and R-CALF USA held town hall meetings in the North Dakota towns of Ashley and Hebron to discuss the ongoing crisis in the U.S. cattle industry and opportunities for reversing the industry’s decline. I-BAND is North Dakota’s state affiliate of R-CALF USA.
Scott Shively, a participant in I-BAND’s efforts to reform both the national beef checkoff program and the additional state-run checkoff, provided an overview of the group’s objectives. He said the major reforms sought include providing individual producers who must pay into the two programs an opportunity to vote both on whether they approve of the two programs’ operation and on who should be appointed to serve on the state commission. He emphasized that on the national level, the influential Federation of State Beef Councils should be separated from any lobbying group.
To achieve that goal, Shively said the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act is legislation that should be included in the 2023 Farm Bill as it would achieve such a necessary reform along with bringing more transparency and accountability to the beef checkoff program.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard informed producers at both locations that although the U.S. cattle industry is experiencing higher prices, much of the increase in revenues is being eaten up by inflated input costs and recent history shows that increased prices can quickly collapse as they did in 2015. He explained that the cattle industry’s long-term success is dependent on maintaining three critical components of a viable industry – its number of participating farmers and ranchers, its mother cow herd (which he described as the industry’s factory) and its marketing outlets.
Using historical charts based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data, Bullard showed that each of these critical components are on steep downward trajectories.
“We can predict the future of our industry based on these alarming trajectories,” he said adding, “If we continue doing what we’ve done for the past four decades, meaning if we make no substantial reforms to our industry’s markets, we will have even fewer producers, fewer mother cows, and fewer marketing outlets.”
Bullard said the industry has lost 77% of its family-sized feedlots, meaning there are now 86,000 fewer cattle buyers today than there were just 25 years ago to purchase lighter-weight cattle.
He said the 2023 Farm Bill is the opportunity to make needed reforms. “We must have mandatory country of origin labeling for beef to restore the lost competition that has occurred from the grocery store all the way back to the cow/calf producer.”
Bullard also said that in addition to the OFF Act that is needed to make the beef checkoff program work for domestic producers, the Farm Bill must prohibit the instrument that multinational beef packers use to leverage down domestic prices.
“That instrument is the formula contract that enables packers to have large volumes of cattle committed to them without ever having to negotiate a price; and then they use the price discovered in the shrunken cash market, which is far too thin to establish a competitive price, as the ultimate base price for the majority of the cattle procured through those contracts.”
The town hall meetings began with a meal sponsored by local businesses Brokaw Ranch, Wald Trucking, Duppong’s Inc., West Plains Inc., Just Insurance, Stearns Feed, Wald Fencing, Herreid Livestock Auction, and Sayler Implement Inc.