North Dakota rancher testifies in Senate Ag committee hearing on cattle price discovery bills
The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing today on controversial bills to improve cattle price discovery and to establish a meat and poultry investigator office at USDA.
The bills are S.4030, the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act of 2022, introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and S.3870, the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022, introduced by Grassley and Tester.
Grassley thanked both Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., for holding the hearing, which went on for more than three hours. As Fischer said, Grassley has been introducing bills along this line for 20 years.
Tester, a Montana farmer and rancher who does not sit on the Agriculture committee, testified that the two bills are needed or the ranching population will continue to decline.
In an opening statement, Stabenow said, “We have heard concerns about the lack of transparency and competition loud and clear, as well as the need to ensure producers of all sizes have options and fair markets. That’s why I was pleased to see President Biden’s Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain announced early this year.”
Boozman said, “There is no doubt that the bills we are discussing this morning are the result of the frustration at the prices America’s farmers and ranchers receive for cattle in relation to the prices consumers ultimately pay for beef products.
“There is a significant difference in these two prices, and I understand the frustration of some cattle producers. I also understand the desire of some of my colleagues to propose legislative solutions to address this frustration.”
Boozman said he fears the price discovery bill would have a negative impact on what are known as alternative marketing agreements, will affect regions differently and discourage investment. He also said legal experts have told him the special investigator act “will just duplicate functions already performed by either USDA, the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Department of Homeland Security.”
Boozman also noted that he has “been in spirited conversations with USDA as I have unsuccessfully attempted to secure the expert opinion of the Office of the Chief Economist on S.4030.”
Instead, the Biden administration sent Andy Green, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s senior adviser for fair and competitive markets, to testify. Green was backed up by Bruce Summers, administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service.
A panel of producers and Stephen Koontz, a professor at Colorado State University, also testified.
North Dakota Farmers Union director Shelly Ziesch of Pettibone spoke on behalf of the cow-calf industry.
“One of the most important points is this: people don’t think we need anything right now and we don’t have anything as far as limits on AMAs,” she said to TSLN.
Ziesch said she spoke in favor of the “compromise bill” sponsored by Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer.
She believes that more cattle need to be sold on the cash market. “I don’t know what that magic number is. I’ll leave that up to the Secretary of Ag and USDA. Hopefully they can get that figured out. We do need a robust cash market. I recognize the fact that (salebarns) don’t work for everyone. I understand the desire to sell through an AMA, but we can’t let it all go to that or next we’ll be vertically integrated,” she said.
Ziesch’s daughter and son in law ranch with her and her husband Robin. She worries that ranchers are not encouraging their kids to carry on the ranching tradition because of the financial challenges. “Calf prices continue to either go down or stay at a minimal level. Yeah, you’re going to get a peack once in a while but it isn’t where it should be when you compare calf prices to the price of haying equipment for example,” she said.
The committee did not seem to indicate whether or not they would support the compromise bill, or other cattle market legislation, said Ziesch.
–The Hagstrom Report and TSLN reporting
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