Ft. Pierre, Gregory, SD: Ranchers learn about litigation at R-CALF meetings
Local producers learned more about reasoning behind the R-CALF USA suit against the “big four” packers this week.
On June 3 and 4, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard spoke to crowds in Ft. Pierre and Gregory, South Dakota about the state of the cattle industry and the methodology R-CALF leaders used in deciding to go forward with the lawsuit.
“We talked about the fact that we’ve lost over 544,000 cattle operations since 1980,” said Bullard in his weekly public address where he summarized his meeting presentations.
He said the mother cow herd in the U.S. has shrunk by 3 million head since the U.S. entered the North American Free Trade Agreement 25 years ago, and that 75 percent of farmer feeders have gone out of business in this same time frame.
He said according to USDA data, cattle feeders have, on average, lost $19.63 per head per month.
If the USDA data is correct, it begs the question “Why do we have any feeders left at all in an industry where the profitability has been so poor,” he said.
Bullard pointed out that while cattle prices were on the rise from 2009 until 2014 and retail beef prices followed, when the cattle market collapsed in 2015 retail beef prices remained at record high levels.
“This is an example and a clear demonstration that somebody in our industry is making huge profits because he spread between live cattle and the price consumers are willing to pay for beef has increased dramatically and that’s why the meatpackers have been earning record margins ever since 2015. So the new strategey we’ve embarked on, we began in the early 2000s. We’ve begun to use the third branch of government, the judicial system, in order to accomplish the objective of our members…to restore competition to the industry.”
Cow-calf producer and feeder Brett Kenzy, who helped organize the Gregory meeting, said he was pleased to see some fresh faces in the crowd.
“I enjoy standing in the back of the room and watching the people who’ve never been to a meeting before. Everything Bill talks about is what you’ve lived, but you’ve never seen it on a graph. It’s eye opening.”
Kenzy said R-CALF helps give producers confidence in themselves, and a feeling of self-worth. “It’s hard to make people think they matter. So many people will just quietly keep going until they can’t anymore and then they will be gone, and that will be it. The feel like somehow the world is smarter or bigger than them, but it shouldn’t be that way.”
Often people will ask him why R-CALF files so many lawsuits. “Bill explained that we’ve exhausted our legislative channels by working on state and national legislation for COOL, and other policies. And we’ve used the executive branch as much as we can to try and get GIPSA rules reinstated, and now we’ve moved to the third branch of government, the judicial branch.
Kenzy said Bullard pointed out that R-CALF members have heard from lawmakers on the state and federal level many times that “we don’t need new laws, all we need to do is enforce the laws we have.”
So R-CALF is doing just that, said Kenzy. “That’s what we’re trying to use the court to do – to enforce existing law.”
The government doesn’t always adequately enforce the law, said Kenzy, drawing a comparison between lax border enforcement and anti-trust laws.
“They seem to think they can decide what to enforce or not. That is not in their job description and I guess we need to use the legal system to remind them of that,” he said.
With the anniversary of D-Day falling the same week as the meetings, Kenzy said he can’t help but think of the ultimate sacrifice made by so many Americans, that allows him to do what he loves. “It blows my mind, what’s been done for us to be here and do what we do. If you’re an American and that’s not on your mind this week, you’re not getting the flavor of America.”