What a concept. The cattle biz went communal in May. For years, the fractured membership of more than a half dozen major organizations have put up a less than unified front in the face of a tidal wave of profoundly serious matters that face our livestock producers. One entity has had enough. The Livestock Marketing Association engineered a sit-down between six of the most influential livestock trade organizations with the aim of unifying the message from cattle producers.
Over the past few years, there has been no love lost, for example, between entities like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the somewhat renegade R-Calf outfit. All of the ag-related trade associations do a fair bit of territorial fencing, self-serving political posturing, and from time-to-time the negativity leaks out, poisons the well, and dilutes the sector’s message. While all of the ag-lobby groups purport to support the same thing, often the result is niche making, line drawing, and a lot of “we’re the better good guys,” kind of talk.
But, somehow in May, everyone got the memo that said, “It is time for a serious summit on our industry problems.” At a closed-door meeting, somewhere in America, representatives of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, R-Calf USA, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and the Livestock Marketing Association all sat down for a meeting, which is the beginning, everyone hopes, of more such confabs meant to address the life-threatening issues that face the industry. Even a casual observer would frame the event as historic and, of course, unprecedented.
The list of issues facing cattle producers varies a little between region, but in general, most of it boils down to one thing, the massive disparity between the pittance ranchers receive for their product and what the end consumer price is when it is cut, wrapped, and put in the meat case at the grocery store. There is one sector in the beef supply chain that seems to be faring much better than the rest. That would be the packers. It would be that issue which got everyone in the same room, singing the same tune.
One topic of discussion at the summit was a recently released USDA report, purportedly explaining what happened in those days since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last year and now, where consumer beef prices have advanced into heretofore uncharted territory.
According to the USDA study, both the Kansas fire (which destroyed a large Tyson plant) and the coronavirus caused backups in the processing industry, caused demand for cattle to drop and prices to decline. At the same time, consumer demand continued and even increased amid supply concerns when the coronavirus led to an emptying of grocery shelves.
The disingenuous screed from the USDA does a faceplant when it comes to assigning any blame for the supply chain breakdown and why processors were allowed to go on a profiteering binge at the expense of both the producers and the consumers. The USDA even said that it did not see any wrongdoing on the part of the packers.
The concept of a summit of the world’s major cattle organizations was begun with the Livestock Marketing Association. Once everyone was, at long last, face-to-face and chair-to-chair, Larry Schnell, President of the Livestock Marketing Association took the first big step. Schnell told reporters after the session that the idea to hold such a conference came from his conversations with legislators. Those talks showed the weakness in the ranks of the livestock business. Listen to Snell lay it open:
“When you bring those issues up during our Congressional fly-ins, and they say, ‘how can we help?’ we tell them that maybe they ought to address the issue one way, they (the legislators) say ‘well, that sounds real good, but last week we had an organization in here that said we should do this thing. And there’s one coming in next week and they’re going to say something different. Why can’t you guys ever get together and agree on something, so we can help you?’”
Pow, bam, socko. Schnell’s line drive is still in the air.
There now appears to be some solidarity among the group at the table. The title thread that stretches through all bullet points is “packers bad.” The items on which the six organizations will focus over the next few months include: packer concentration, price transparency and discovery, packer oversight, Packers and Stockyard Act enforcement, level of captive supply, and packer capacity.
While the packer and pricing matters are critical, there are many other incoming ordinances that demand the homogeneous attention of everyone who sells meat or farms land. Let us hope that this is the first of many times when our industry goes all in for the win.
Perhaps thou doth protest too much
I have been around the media industry my entire life and that adds up to a long time. I have seen the herd mentality in action time and time again. When certain news organizations go to work on a theme, such as climate change, they become the purveyors of the theme content and the rest of the herd, right down the line, chimes in, truth be damned. Suddenly you see information peddlers writing about matters that they would never have dreamed about discussing in times past. (And it shows.)
What is happening now is a never-ending succession of stories by outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, LA Times, and TV outlets like CNN and MSNBC, doing everything they can to convince us that there is a massive drought in place and that climate change is the greatest threat to mankind ever — never mind that we have had more earthquakes, there are multiple volcanoes erupting at the moment, the Fed is bankrupt, the borders are broken, and inflation is so rampant that folks are considering second mortgages so that they can buy groceries.
It is as if they are trying to convince us of something that they want us to believe, whether we need to or not. Or maybe, it is a case of misdirection. Suddenly, drought is about climate change. And I would suggest the constant drum of the drought story may have a lot to do with selling that story.
Is it dry in the West? Why, yes, it is. But then it is June and in June it gets dry. Is it a drought? That depends on who is telling the story. The dictionary meaning is, “a period of dryness especially when prolonged.” But depending on your discipline, your definition could vary. To a hydrologist, it refers to a lack of water in the hydrological system, manifesting itself in abnormally low streamflow in rivers and abnormally low levels in lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater. To an irrigator, it is about less or no water with which to care for his crops.
I do not ever remember a time in my life when there was not a drought somewhere. I remember our well sucking dust in the summer of 1957. Then, in the ’57 winter, the rains filled all of the reservoirs and washed part of my grandmother’s home down the San Lorenzo River. The 1950s produced one of the longest drought periods in the US. But the 1930s still remain the benchmark for dry spells. That drought produced the Dust Bowl in mid-America, running from July 1928 to May of 1942. It produced one of the last great migrations and a lot of tragedy.
One matter that exacerbates the drought problem in our day and age is the incredible pressure placed on the great rivers of Colorado. Drought and climate change cannot be blamed entirely for the low pool in Lake Powell, Lake Mead, or Lake Havasu. And the problem is not the irrigation of crops. The problem, put more simply than those invested in the climate change narrative would care to do, is over-subscribed resources. I think it is amazing that the Colorado, Yampa, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and South Platte have kept up as well as they have.
The renegotiation of the 1922 compact that dictates the use of the Colorado River is set for 2026. More than 110 years ago when the Law of the River was codified, it was based on bad information. The data used in forecasting the stream flow was flawed. This time around, we must be on guard against misinformation as well as an agenda based on the flawed climate change models that have yet to live up to the hype.