House Ag Committee members on Wednesday heard testimony from industry groups and stakeholders regarding the economic and regulatory concerns currently facing American livestock producers.
Members of the Ag Committee's Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development and Credit heard from two panels of witnesses that ranged from the Chief Economist of the USDA Joseph Glauber to National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson and National Pork Producers President Howard Hill.
Together the panelists highlighted pressing regulatory burdens, feed costs, drought, animal disease, and trade issues that are impacting the livestock sector of the agricultural economy.
"Our farmers and ranchers have endured a great deal over the past few years from record droughts to higher input costs and the ongoing burden and uncertainty associated with mandatory country-of-origin labeling rules, Chairman Rick Crawford, R-Ark., commented following the hearing.
"Combined, all of these issues and others have tightened operating margins, which create challenging business conditions for our producers. I hope we will use what we have learned to work on real and lasting solutions to the problems we discussed."
Pork industry faces PEDV, COOL
For Hill, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, country of origin labeling and trade issues are all of clear concern.
PEDV, for example, represents a clear threat. "U.S. pork producers are in the business of creating and maintaining living, healthy animals," he wrote in testimony. "Losing millions of pigs to this disease hurts them to the very core and actually signifies that they have profoundly failed to live up to that calling."
Hill suggested that pork producers are not only concerned about their animals, but also about the impact of PEDV on their customers as retail pork prices rise.
"Reduced hog numbers mean less feed, less medicine, fewer veterinary services and shortened hours at packing and processing plants. All of these dynamics reduce wages and profits generated by allied businesses," he explained, suggesting that USDA continue to take a thoughtful approach to working with the pork industry to develop a control strategy that is "practical, workable and successful."
Hill also expressed concern about trade sanctions from Mexico and Canada regarding the mandatory country of origin labeling rule. Sanctions stemming from the rule, he said, will impact sectors outside of the pork and agriculture industry. He called on Congress to consider a legislative fix.
Anti-trust issues, COOL support
NFU President Roger Johnson, on the other side of COOL debate, said preserving COOL would improve consumer trust. He also advocated for retention of the Renewable Fuel Standard. A final volume requirement is expected to be published later this spring.
Also on the NFU radar were concerns about anti-trust violations and competitive markets.
According to the farm group, the top four beef packers control more than 81% of cattle slaughter in the U.S., and the top four swine processors control 65% of hog sales.
Johnson called on the subcommittee to commission a study to "determine the qualitative results" of the Packers and Stockyards Act and "if current enforcement levels are ensuring a competitive marketplace."
For Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Costa, D-Calif., the focus was on the drought in his home state.
"In the San Joaquin Valley, our livestock producers are struggling to hold on in the face of a devastating drought, and farm workers who usually have tired hands from working the fields may soon be standing in line at food banks to feed their families," he said following the panel.
"Today's hearing gave us the opportunity to highlight the natural, bureaucratic, and regulatory challenges facing the industry," he said.