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Brand law working group to meet in Grand Island

Spike Jordan
for Tri-State Livestock News

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Senator Steve Halloran, chairman of the legislature’s agriculture committee, has assembled a task force of cattle industry stakeholders to help the committee decide the future of Nebraska’s brand laws and the agency that enforces it.

The first round of work group meetings is set to kick off Monday, Sept. 21, at Fonner Park in Grand Island, and is in response to LR 387, an interim study resolution Halloran introduced after hearings for two brand bills this past spring ended at an impasse.

LB 1165, introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Gering, would have ended mandatory brand inspection, eliminated the Nebraska Brand Committee, and transferred remaining duties for brand recording to the Department of Agriculture. LB 1200, introduced for the Nebraska Brand Committee by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would have among other changes significantly changed the fee structure supporting the Brand Committee and expanded the role of the Brand Committee to incorporate EID and other forms of animal ID to provide alternatives means of brand inspection compliance as well as to offer additional services to the industry.

“There has been increasing questions about the role and value of mandatory brand inspection and concerns expressed that the fees charged to some segments of the industry are unfair,” Halloran said in a press release. “The two bill’s heard before the Agriculture Committee this past session proposed radically different solutions and there was little consensus for moving forward with either bill although there does appear to be widespread agreement that the brand law needs to be updated.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting is not open to the public but media has been invited to attend. Halloran said he anticipates that whatever recommendations the working group might arrive at will be presented to the full ag committee in a public hearing later in the interim. Future meetings will be held at other locations across the state.

WHO’S WHO

A list of the working group members obtained by Tri-State Livestock News shows an overlap of some individuals who had testified at the LB 1165 and LB 1200 hearings in the legislature’s Warner Chamber this past spring, as well as some new faces.

Nebraska Farm Bureau

Nebraska Farm Bureau has one rep and was a late addition to the work group. Farm bureau has a fairly rigid brand inspection policy adopted by members in 2016.

“We support the work of the Brand Committee and believe the Committee should have the fee authority necessary to adequately fund its programs,” the Farm Bureau policy manual states. “Nebraska’s brand inspection law should be broadened to encompass the entire state. We recognize the need for a registered feedlot inspection program and believe an equitable fee structure should be developed to continue the program. We do not support an exemption from fees for feedlots participating in the program.”

That policy is set to expire if not renewed or modified by Farm Bureau members at its annual meeting in December.

– Jeff Metz is the president of the Morrill County Farm Bureau, and has previously served on the Nebraska Brand Committee Board of Directors. He also serves as a Morrill County Commissioner, and has been a staunch advocate for the brand and the cow/calf producer.

Nebraska Cattlemen (NC)

Nebraska Cattlemen has two reps on the working group.

NC has a diverse and segmented membership, with cow/calf operations in the west and central part of the state, and larger feedlots to the east. It’s a difficult horse for them to straddle, but the NC policy has generally been in support of the Brand Committee and in defense of the brand law, however they have opposed past legislation which would have expanded the inspection area to the whole state.

– Melody Benjamin, of Lakeside, is Vice President of Member Services and an NC lobbyist. Benjamin is a familiar face at many of the Brand Committee meetings, and has testified on Brand Committee issues in the legislature. At the most recent Brand Committee meeting in Alliance, Benjamin thanked the brand committee for managing producer’s money wisely.

– Ken Herz is a feeder from Lawrence and current NC president. In an interview with Rural Radio Network this past spring, Herz expressed NC’s support for lowering the fee structure for Registered Feed Lots, which was one of the more controversial aspects of LB 1200.

Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON)

Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska has been supportive of the brand committee, however it voiced opposition against LB 1200 last spring because changes to the RFL fee structure and the inclusion of EID.

– Don Cain, DVM, of Broken Bow, testified against LB 1200 last spring, and spoke specifically against the EID provisions of the bill saying that it “confirms the peter principle in ownership,” and that in his experience, elevating EID beyond its element as a form of legal identification would be a bad decision.

– Former ICON president David Wright of Neligh is a fourth generation cow/calf rancher and former newspaper publisher. He sits on the board for the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM). He has served on both the Nebraska and national beef check-off boards.

Nebraska Beef Producers Committee

The Nebraska Beef Producers Committee is an organization which has sought to end inspection fees. In 2017, Beef Producers sued the Nebraska Brand Committee and its former Director Bill Bunce in an unsuccessful effort to overturn the Nebraska Brand law. Some members of the Beef Producers Committee include Adams Land and Cattle Company of Broken Bow, and Gottsch Cattle Company, which operate feedyards both inside and outside Nebraska’s inspection area. According to documents filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, Beef Producers spent $88,000 to lobby on brand committee issues.

– John Sennet, is an attorney from Broken Bow who represents the Beef Producers Committee and testified at the brand bill hearings last Spring. He testified in favor of LB 1165, which is in line with the Beef Producers’ goals of abolishing the Brand Committee, and against LB 1200. He said that the brand committee is not a private group, but a mandatory group that does not provide a certain segment of registered feedlots any benefit.

– Pete Lapaseotes is an RFL operator from Bridgeport whose affiliation to the Beef Producers was not disclosed during his testimony last spring. He argued that since inspections are not statewide, brand laws in Nebraska will never be fully equal. He argued that LB 1200 doesn’t meet the needs of producers and that it doesn’t allow Nebraska to be on a competitive footing with other states. He is on the board of Consolidated Beef Producers, a cattle marketing cooperative based in Canyon, Texas.

Dairy Industry

– David Wolfe of Wolfden Dairy south of Kearney sits on the board of directors for the Nebraska State Dairy Association. Wolfe told TSLN that there are not many dairies left in the brand inspection area, but some dairies take heifer calves down south in Texas and Kansas for backgrounding. While the dairy retains ownership, the calves still need a brand inspection before leaving the brand area, and since none of the dairies brand calves anymore, he questioned if those inspections were worth the cost to the committee. Wolfe said that most dairies have instead opted for RFID tags, and his operation has used them for about a decade. The downside is that if the animal loses the tag it loses the ID.

“It’s not as permanent as the brand,” he said.

He said he would be interested to see if female dairy cattle could be exempt from required inspection, however the bull calves, which are slaughtered for meat, would likely need to stay under the current inspection regime. He’s not against the brand, but he’s looking to help reform and strengthen it.

EID Manufacturer

Since EID was included in LB 1200, as a possible form of proving ownership, the Halloran invited a representative from Allflex to sit on the working group and provide insight into the technology.

– Andy Dorn, of Minden, is global product marketing manager for Allflex, a subsidiary of Merck Animal Health. Allfelx bills itself as “the largest provider of animal identification technology,” and a 2019 press release from the company said it provides 500 million tags for identifying, tracking and monitoring animals every year, and monitors over 5.5 million cows daily.

Farmer-Rancher

-Scott Eisenhour is a farmer-rancher in Knox County, who testified with his father last spring in favor of LB 1165 and against LB 1200. He said that he trusts 99 percent of his neighbors and he did not believe inspections were of value to his operation.

Knox County has the distinction of being the only split-inspection county in the state, and straddles the line between the inspection and non-inspection areas. Its Sherriff testified in opposition to LB 1165 last spring, saying that the assistance the brand committee provides his office when it comes to identifying and investigating stolen or missing cattle has been invaluable. However, not all Knox County residents see it that way.

Brand Committee

– Adam Sawyer, the chairman of the brand committee’s board of directors, is a banker and Angus producer from Bassett. He will represent the brand committee on the working group, and support will be provided by the committee’s executive director, John Widdowson.

Sawyer said during the Sept. 14, meeting in Alliance that his intent on the working group is to come up with ideas to keep the brand committee and work out a compromise to maintain brand inspection in Western Nebraska.

“A lot of us would love to have the brand in the whole state of Nebraska,” Sawyer said. “That’s not an option that we have at this point in time. We would like, at least of all things, to keep brand inspection in the area that we have.”

Livestock Marketing Association

Salebarns and Livestock Markets in Nebraska are a key customer of the Nebraska Brand Committee, as inspections are needed to prove and transfer ownership. A majority of the salebarn owners in the state have expressed a preference for the hot brand, especially when it comes to the liability associated with the transfer of title. However this is not unanimous, as at least one salebarn, Platte Valley Livestock in Gering, has expressed interest in using EID.

-Bryce Dibbern, Region Executive Officer with the Livestock Marketing Association, will represent the Livestock Market interests and may be accompanied by a market operator.

Other support

Rick Leonard, research analyst for the ag committee, said that he and several other individuals will provide support to the working group.

Others include Widdowson, UNL ag economist Elliott Dennis, and Laura Field, former Nebraska Cattlemen Lobbyist, who now works for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. F


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