Nebraska brand law changes

It was with great interest I read Clint Andersen’s guest opinion piece in the Sheridan County Journal Star (reprinted in the Dec. 24, 2011 edition of Tri-State Livestock News on page B3). As the Chairman of the Brand and Property Rights Committee for Nebraska Cattlemen (NC) and as a member of the task force which worked over two years to develop these concepts, I am much attuned to the concerns brought to us from across this great state.

At least as far as cattle are concerned, Nebraska is a very special place. Our eastern farms and ranches greatly resemble the majority of the Midwest with row crops being the primary enterprise and cattle production being the secondary enterprise. Our state’s ability to feed large numbers of cattle comes from that row cropping. Our western ranches tend to more closely relate to the intermountain west with cattle grazing on wide expanses of grasslands. At NC, our members embrace that diversity, believing it is a large part of what makes us the pre-eminent beef state. As you probably know, calves in Nebraska have a greater value than some other places partly due to the close blend of feeding operations and packing plants. The feeders of Nebraska can access higher-quality feeder cattle at lower transportation costs because of the outstanding seedstock production and cow-calf producers in our state. We fortunately have a well-rounded cattle and beef production industry here and NC membership would like to keep it.

NC conducted 16 open meetings across the entire state and numerous other meetings including radio spots in the last year to take input on brand laws in general and brand inspection in specific. Comments were recorded at all of the meetings. The cumulative results show there was no clear consensus statewide, but there were trends.

Cattlemen in the western part of the state voiced the need for brand inspection since their cattle have more opportunity to stray. Over and over we heard that they consider brand inspection a service they need. Also, many times it was declared that the inspection service was cheap insurance that they would be willing to pay more to support. Each year Nebraska Brand Committee (NBC) recover about 1,200 head of strays more than are reported stolen, proving they provide an outstanding service finding strays.

The NC task force looked at the most common comments and worked to integrate the concepts into draft language for NC membership to consider. Further, the task force felt strongly that those benefitting most from a service should pay the most for the system. Those receiving little benefit should not bare the same burden. This is not a new premise to Nebraska or the U.S.

The NBC had a presence at each public meeting across the state and participated in earlier task force meetings. In addition, over a week before the annual meeting NBC was given the proposed provisions that would be forwarded to the NC membership. An NC staff person and I attended the NBC board meeting two days before the NC membership met to receive input from the NBC board. No definitive board decisions contrary to these provisions were brought to us at that time.

The resolution NC adopted at the annual meeting has multiple provisions. One proposal is to raise the fees for brand recording, brand transfer and assessments. Brands are optional. Nebraska brand law does not require anyone to have a brand so those who choose to have a brand should pay a more appropriate amount of the revenue for NBC. Nebraska lags behind most of the brand states in these fees.

Another provision was to allow one of the five producer brand committee members to reside outside the inspection area. This is simply correcting a wrong that has existed since the inception of the state law in 1941. We heard from producers who have property in the inspection area but their place of residence was not. Why should there not be a representative from out of the inspection area since they too have to abide by the laws?

Another provision addresses expanding the current NBC Purebred Program which allows a calf crop to be inspected and then allows the producer to issue a self-certified document to transfer title to a new owner. The NC provision expands this program to better reflect the fact that not all seedstock are purebreds.

There is a provision that would allow a producer to apply to the NBC for a document to report sale or movement of cattle on 15 head or less. The NBC would have the authority to deny the issuance of such certificate at the time of request. NBC would be allowed to charge an administrative fee for the convenience and if this method was used, inspection fees and beef checkoff would be mandatory.

One other provision was developed in response to many comments regarding the movement of cattle in and out of the inspection area for grazing. That portion of the resolution asked NBC to look at ways to expand the grazing permit program to allow for movement of cattle, on a grazing permit, further than the counties contiguous to the inspection line.

These concepts NC membership have put forward have, once again, come about after statewide input and an attempt to better serve producers and make it easier to identify the vast majority of cattle movement. Having a producer-friendly, required paper trail should reduce the number of out of compliance cattle moved.

The provision that possibly has the most impact also addresses the relationship between revenue collected to the benefits received comparison from inspection services. Current brand laws allow registered feed operations to pay inspection fees based on a formula. A quarterly NBC audit is performed on the feeding operation. This system was set up recognizing that once cattle are confined in a feeding situation there is very little opportunity for animals to stray as well as little opportunity for finding stray animals. NBC has already recognized this as something that provides little benefit to the feeding operation. This provision does not change the audits but would change the cost to the feeding operations to be based on the cost of the audit.

One additional provision is to exempt packing facilities, inside the brand inspection area, from the need to inspect fed cattle of 30 months and younger brought from outside of the inspection area. This once again is unfair to charge producers outside the inspection area when the feeders inside the inspection area have the option to be registered and thus have self-certification accompany the cattle.

The NC task force, the NC Brand and Property Rights Committee and the members of Nebraska Cattlemen have approved this resolution along with the provision to analyze the economic impact. The first proposals in 1888 to start inspection on Nebraska cattle in Omaha and Chicago or the need to have the NBC become a state agency also at first seemed unworkable. NC members are now trying to address inequities in needs and fees to protect the rights of cattle producers in our state.

One thing heard at each of the statewide meetings is that “brand law and inspection need to be fair.” The Nebraska Cattlemen membership, based on the provisions passed agree. To some, fair means “you subsidize my way,” to a vast majority of our members it means, “I pay my way and you pay yours.”

Art Brownlee

Chairman Nebraska Brand and Property Rights Committee

Ashby, NE