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Cattlemen seek market access, equitable treatment in farm bill

Texas cattlemen would like to see Congress take immediate action on a disaster relief bill; continue market-oriented programs for crops without supply management; maintain effective, well-funded conservation efforts; invest in agricultural research; promote aggressive international trade negotiations; and allow cattlemen adequate marketing options.

Some of those issues can be managed “outside” the farm bill, said Dale Smith, an Amarillo, Texas, cattleman. Smith testified before a Senate agriculture committee hearing recently in Lubbock on behalf of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers, Texas Cattle Feeders and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

Smith’s first request to Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, was to “act quickly and pass an agricultural disaster package. The Southwest is dealing with a drought of historic proportions,” he said.

Livestock losses in Texas top $1.6 billion, he said. “And 77 percent of the state’s hay production has been lost. Likewise, Oklahoma has an 80 percent poor to very poor range and pasture rating, tying it for the worst conditions in the lower 48 states.”

Smith said the drought losses come on top of the millions of acres and miles of fences destroyed last spring by wildfires.

“Many producers have been forced to scale back cowherds. If this trend persists it will have a long-term, negative affect on ranchers, local communities, feedyards and the economy as it shrinks the cattle industry’s contribution to economic output.”

Smith said the industry – the nation’s largest segment of agriculture – desires a farm policy that focuses on “the right of individual choice in managing land, water and other resources; provides an opportunity to compete in foreign markets; and does not favor one producer or commodity over another.”

He said 1 of every 4 bushels of the major feed grains produced in the United States goes into the livestock industry with beef accounting for nearly 30 percent of that consumption. “Cattlemen support a continuation of reasonable market-oriented programs for crops. It is not in the farmers’ and ranchers’ best interest for the government to implement policy that sets prices; underwrites inefficient production; or manipulates domestic supply, demand, cost or price,” Smith said.

He recommended a similar approach with renewable fuels. “We support efforts to increase our nation’s renewable fuel supplies; however, livestock consumes 3 out of 4 bushels of major grains harvested, so governmental incentives should not function to the detriment of livestock producers.”

Common sense and sound science, he said, should provide the basis for conservation programs. The Environmental Quality Incentive Program or EQIP achieves that goal. “Cattle producers across the country participate in the program, but arbitrarily setting numerical caps that render some producers ineligible limits success of the program.”

He said addressing environmental concerns is not a matter of big or little. “All producers have a responsibility to take care of the environment and their land and should be able to participate in programs that help establish and attain environmental goals.”

Cattleman support international trade and “aggressive negotiating positions to open markets and to remove unfair trade barriers.”

Smith said cattlemen support continued funding for the Market Access and Foreign Market Development programs.

“(We) support congressional and regulatory action to address unfair international trade barriers that hinder exportation of U.S. beef.”

Smith said limiting marketing options available to cattle producers should be addressed outside the farm bill debate. “We oppose efforts to limit market options,” he said. “Such restrictions limit ownership, restrict marketing agreements and place the cattle industry at an unfair advantage with other protein suppliers.”

He said mandatory country of origin labeling should be replaced with a voluntary, less expensive, “market-based program.”

He also encouraged the cattle industry and USDA to implement an animal identification and tracking program. “Hopefully, this issue can be resolved outside the farm bill.”

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