Kent Lahren: Cattle industry in state of emergency
March 7, 2017
On Jan. 3, 2017, popular political commentator and South Dakota native, Tomi Lahren, called for Americans to "Make the American Table Great Again" on her show featured on The Blaze.
"The American worker has been drop-kicked by both political parties, but not just those steel, coal and factory workers, the American farmer and cattleman have also been kicked in the teeth hard."
Her "Final Thoughts" segment, which wrapped up a lengthier interview with R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard, addressed the need for the U.S. to reinstate country of origin labeling (COOL) to offer consumers more transparency and information about where their beef comes from, as well as to support the American cattle rancher.
"The American cowboy and cattleman have never had it easy, but these last two years have been brutal," Lahren said. "The cost to operate has gone up while the price of cattle has gone down, a lot. Most ranchers are struggling to feed their cattle and stay operational. It's a daily freaking battle, but one you'll hardly hear them complain about."
With 5.2 million views, 5,400 comments and 6,500 Facebook reactions, it's quite evident Lahren's platform has allowed for the voiceless cattle rancher to finally be heard on a large scale.
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While here is much industry debate among various cattlemen's groups about whether COOL was truly the reason calf prices dropped so significantly in recent years, it's clear to any cattle rancher that at current market levels, producers are struggling and many ranching businesses and rural communities may not be able to survive the sharp decline.
So where does Tomi's passion for the cattle industry come from? We caught up with her uncle, Kent Lahren, a third generation rancher from Mobridge, S.D., to discuss her connection to the South Dakota ranching community.
"On both sides of Tomi's family, she has family members involved in the cattle business," said Kent Lahren. "Growing up, she visited her grandparents' ranch on the weekends, and she knows how hard they worked. She knows that both sides of her family live the hard life of being in the cattle business."
Kent, and his brother, Kevin Lahren, speak on a daily basis, and after Kent attended a local R-CALF USA meeting in Herreid last November, he approached the idea with Kevin about having Tomi interview Bullard on her show.
"I told my brother to tell Tomi what's going on back home, and he agreed to visit with her about what's happening back at home on the ranch," said Kent. "Once she heard about the hardships cattlemen were facing, she wanted to help."
Kent discussed the issues facing ranchers with Tomi over the phone and got her in touch with Bullard. Soon after, Tomi invited Bullard to discuss this live on air with her viewers, and the video immediately went viral.
With all eyes on the cattle industry, Kent Lahren is a dedicated producer and R-CALF USA member who hopes President Donald Trump's administration can turn things around for the American cattle producer. In a passionate letter he shared with the Tri-State Livestock News, it's evident that Tomi isn't the only Lahren family member who can effectively articulate an issue and engage others in the discussion.
In his letter, Lahren writes, "I believe the U.S. cattle industry is in a state of emergency. We are dangerously close to losing our family ranchers, and our our small towns are going to take a financial hit. With the importation of foreign beef being dumped in our country, the safety of this beef is questionable.
"I'm tired of ag groups say that farmers and ranchers need the TPP and NAFTA. If my memory serves me right, shortly after NAFTA was approved, the U.S. became the dumping ground for Mexico and Canada. Now our livelihood is in jeopardy. Fortunately, the TPP was dropped by President Trump.
"John McCAin has said the U.S. worker can compete with any other worker in the world. That's ridiculous. The foreign worker works for a few dollars a week. We will have to lower our standard of living to compete with them. That means the American rancher has no money to contribute to our economy because there will be no money left to spend.
"Just recently, on the Northern Ag Network, it was reported that Anheiser Busch and Coors notified central Montana that they will buy only a fraction of their barley. They said they'll buy off the global market.
"Let's say you sold 200 head of calves last fall. They should have brought $1,400 each. Instead, this year, they brought $700. In reality, you sold 100 calves and gave 100 calves away to the packer.
"We need to reinstate COOL. We don't have time and the resources to defend ourselves. We need to send Bullard to Washington, D.C. If we don't, the packer will go for us. In my opinion, that's the fox guarding the hen house.
"We can go to town and buy a pair of cowboy boots, made in China, for $250. Or we could spend $125 and join South Dakota Stockgrowers and R-CALF USA and try to save the ranch. The cattle producer pays into beef checkoff and that money is being used to advertise our beef and foreign beef. We are paying for advertising beef for other countries that are putting us out of business. That's absurd.
"For every dollar I give to the beef checkoff, I send a dollar to R-CALF USA. It's only fair. I would like to see the beef checkoff be voluntary, not mandatory. The producer should have the freedom to decide where the money should be spent.
"The grain farmer needs to pay close attention. The U.S. has lost 84,920 feedlots in the past 19 years. The buyers for your grain are going out of business. That's going to add to your oversupply.
"The cattle will be fed on the global market, leaving the American farmer behind. We are losing our young people in agriculture. It's not because of hard work. It's a lack of profitability. If we join R-CALF and fight the good fight, maybe we can turn things around and our children can come back to prosperity."
On Feb. 23, Kent Lahren's niece, in typical Tomi fashion, once again addressed the issue of COOL, urging her listeners to take action to bring American beef back to the dinner table.