Cyndi's Two Cents

Accountability in cattle country


Cattle prices dropped like a rock following the August 9 fire at the Tyson plant near Holcomb, Kansas.  The plant processed about 6,000 head of fed cattle per day, which equates to 6 percent of the total U.S. fed cattle capacity.  Many were shocked that closing a single plant could have that much of a negative ripple effect throughout cattle country.

The whispers I’ve heard for years about packers having too much control over not only the vertically integrated poultry and hog segments, but cattle as well, became louder and louder in days following the fire.  I’ve heard from so many people who received ridiculously low prices for cattle they sold in the past 2 months.  I’ve personally experienced it as well.  Prices weren’t so great to begin with and then this big hit came and knocked the wind out of us all. . . well, almost all of us.  Packer margins spiked in the days and weeks following the fire.

Enter the Western Ag Reporter trade publication and a cattle auctioneer from Montana who called on fellow cow-calf producers and feeders to join in a social media campaign #FairCattleMarkets to get the attention of President Donald Trump.  Joe Goggins said the ever-widening gap between packer profit margins and producer’s price for cattle has raised concern across the countryside.  It’s been going on for more than 2 decades and its past time to do something about it.  Goggins doesn’t claim to have all the answers.  He acknowledged that getting rid of packers isn’t an answer, as they are needed. His hope is to get a conversation started so the president understands there is a problem and to get some fairness back in the market.

The campaign got the attention of a lot of cattlemen who were more than happy to participate.  Somewhere along the way, however, other groups with different motives seized control of the campaign and tried to make it their own.  #FairCattleMarkets didn’t start out as a promotion for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) or as an anti-Beef Checkoff campaign.  But it was morphed into that and more.

One of the things I detest about the way laws at the state and federal level are made is the inclusion of non-related additions tossed in so a bill will pass.  Many of us will support whole-heartedly the gist of a bill until we find out what might be “buried” in it.  That is what happened to the #FairCattleMarkets campaign. 

I have been and will always be a proponent for promotion, research and education funding for the beef industry.  I do not believe that an organization with strong ties to Humane Society of The United States should have or expect to have a seat at the table when it comes to deciding anything about production, promotion, education or research pertaining to beef cattle.

I do believe that the National Beef Checkoff could do a better job communicating to those who fund it.  I do believe there is transparency and accountability to cattle producers, but I don’t think most of us want to go looking for it. 

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