Cattle association optimistic about transparency bill passage

By: - June 23, 2022 7:44 pm

A small herd of cattle graze in a western Iowa pasture. (Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Federal legislation aimed at aiding small cattle producers appears to have enough Republican support to pass the U.S. Senate, according to the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

Such support for the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act from the minority party in the Senate is crucial because legislation needs 60 of 100 votes to end debate and proceed to a final vote that requires only a simple majority. The association said 10 Republicans support the cattle price bill.

“If all 48 Democrats and two independents align with the favorable report from the committee, the bill will have the support needed to end debate and proceed with a vote,” the association said.

The legislation would require the four large meatpackers that control about 85% of the nation’s beef supply to reveal the terms of their private agreements with cattle producers — often referred to as alternative marketing arrangements. Those agreements have streamlined segments of the industry but have made it difficult to determine accurate market prices, which are derived from cash bids.

“The goal of the legislation is to ensure that every segment of the beef supply chain can succeed,” U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said during a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry hearing. The committee advanced the legislation Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been pushing for similar legislation for more than two decades and said the committee’s approval of the bill — which he introduced with Fischer and two Democratic senators — was a “significant breakthrough.”

“It’s been a long haul for Iowa cattlemen,” he told reporters after the vote.

The vast majority of the country’s feedlots have fewer than 1,000 cattle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they raise less than 20% of the nation’s beef. Feedlots with 32,000 or more cattle account for about 40%.

There are no feedlots in Iowa that large. The largest is permitted to have about 25,000, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources data, and only three have permits for 20,000 or more.

In Nebraska, the Dundy County Board recently gave conditional approval for a 100,000-head feedlot, which would be the state’s — and the nation’s — largest, its developers say.

While the federal legislation received broad support from the Senate committee, it was apparent that a provision that would force meatpackers to buy a certain percentage of their cattle with cash bids will face opposition when it is considered by the full Senate. The American Farm Bureau Federation announced its opposition of the mandate in January.

“I came here to Washington to help remove federal regulations and mandates on private industry, not to impose them through legislation,” U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said during the Wednesday hearing.

Multiple senators indicated they would support an amendment to strip the mandate but none asked for a vote on one during the committee debate.

A Colorado State University professor who studies agricultural economics said in an April committee hearing that there’s no proof such a requirement would bolster prices for smaller producers.

The committee also has advanced a second bill — the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act — that would broaden the oversight of anticompetitive business practices in the meat and poultry industries. Those who oppose the legislation, including U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the ranking Republican on the committee, said it is duplicative to create a new federal office to investigate the matters because the USDA already monitors them.

The Cattlemen’s Association said the second bill “would benefit from additional Republican support,” noting that six Republicans are co-sponsoring it.

“The cattle industry has not received this much dedicated attention from lawmakers in a long time,” Bob Noble, the association’s president, said in a press release. “It’s clear, even in Washington, that cattle market reform is needed now.”

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.