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No Frills For R-CALF Leaders

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Well-known member
Feb 13, 2005
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-----Original Message-----
From: Shae Dodson [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, November 03, 2005 1:20 PM
To: Undisclosed-Recipient:;
Subject: R-CALF USA Challenges Beef Establishment --- The Milkweed, August 2005

Hi Folks,

This story ran in the August 2005 issue of The Milkweed, a publication geared toward independent U.S. dairy producers. Unfortunately, when my computer crashed recently, I lost this story and had to request another copy from the author, thus the reason for the delay in distribution.

Quite a few dairy producers have expressed an interest in creating a grassroots organization to address their particular interests, and patterning it after R-CALF. Quite a compliment!


- - - - - - - - - - - -

R-CALF USA Challenges Beef Establishment

by Jim Eichstadt

The Milkweed - - - August 2005 - - - www.themilkweed.com

"Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

Victor Hugo, French dramatist, novelist, poet

For many U.S. beef producers, R-CALF USA is the most powerful idea to come along in their lifetimes.

R-CALF USA's (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers Association) membership and influence have spread like a prairie fire across cattle country. What's the attraction for beef producers? R-CALF USA is tackling entrenched livestock industry interests and policies that hurt independent cattlemen.

R-CALF USA is spearheading a vigorous, nationwide reform effort to foster robust and open competition for all segments of the U.S. beef industry. This grass-roots campaign seeks to safeguard the nation's cattle herd from Mad Cow disease, protect the vital interests of beef producers in free trade agreements, and ensure that American consumers know what country their beef comes from.

Conversations with R-CALF USA President Leo McDonnell Jr., Chief Executive Officer Bill

Bullard, and other members and observers provided insights into this unique organization.

Dairy farmers who share some of the frustrations driving R-CALF USA members may want to

pay close attention to what the organization stands for, how it operates, and how it has managed to succeed where others have failed.

Early frustrations

This grass-roots phenomenon sprung up in the late 1990s when a few determined ranchers and beef industry people, fed up with the meatpacker-dominated national groups that purported to speak for producers, decided they'd had enough.

McDonnell, who operates Midland Bull Test station at Columbus, Montana, said his ties to R-CALF USA grew out of his involvement in the Montana Stockgrowers Association in the mid-1990s.

Back then, a major concern of Montana cattlemen was unfair competition from Canadian cattle imports.

Seeking to address the import problem, McDonnell became involved in the international trade

committee of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the industry umbrella group for Montana and many other state cattle organizations.

McDonnell said his eyes were opened when the NCBA "refused to help us stop the Canadian cattle that were depressing our market."

"It became obvious that they cared only about what was good for the big guys, not the independent feeders and ranchers," he said. Among the big guys calling the shots were the big U.S. meatpacking firms wanting more access to cheap live cattle imports and fewer restrictions on their operations.

"At that point in the summer of 1999, we decided to form R-CALF USA as a membership organization because of the very poor representation we were receiving in Washington. Cattle producers simply were not being represented," McDonnell said.

McDonnell joined forces with two other cattle producers and R-CALF USA co-founders: Colorado rancher Kathleen Kelley, and South Dakota livestock auction yard operator Herman Schumacher.

Rebuffed by the NCBA, the R-CALF USA cofounders did their homework and filed dumping and subsidy complaints against Canadian cattle imports with the U.S. Department of Commerce. They made a very strong case and won relief against Canada's dumping in July 1999, only to have their remedy thrown out later that year by the U.S. International Trade Commission, McDonnell said.

He attributes the ITC's actions at the time to politics rather than fair consideration of the legitimate trade interests of American cattle producers. He said the same misguided political calculations are still at play in CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). CAFTA is just another tool for big meat packers to drive down U.S. cattle prices by further outsourcing American beef supplies, McDonnell said.

R-CALF USA moved forward from that point, rapidly gaining members and building momentum for its cause as more cattlemen reached the same conclusion about the NCBA.

"Trade and marketing issues were not even being addressed, were not even on the table," said

Bullard, who signed on as R-CALF USA's chief executive in 2001. Bullard became intimately familiar with those concerns as a struggling young rancher in Perkins County, South Dakota during the depths of the farm crisis in the early 1980s.

Beef climate ripe for change

To better understand the R-CALF USA upstarts, it's helpful to know the evolution of NCBA, the big national beef establishment that created the current climate for change.

NCBA was formed under pressure by the January 1996, top-down merger of the National

Cattlemen's Association and the National Live Stock and Meat Board's Beef Industry Council, against the wishes of many grass-roots cattle producers. The merger was controversial in part because it blurred the lines between a lobbying group (NCBA) and a check-off funded body (Cattlemen's Beef Board) prohibited by law from engaging in political activity.

Then, as now, observers were troubled by what they described as "an incestuous relationship" between the Beef Board and its principle contractor, NCBA, which receives up to 85 percent of its revenues from USDA's beef promotion checkoff funds.

NCBA maintains large offices staffed with an army of employees in Denver, Washington, DC, and Chicago. G. Chandler Keys III, Vice President-Center for Government Affairs, heads NCBA's Washington lobbying office with 23 employees, including 17 lobbyists, and directs its large political action committee, NCBA-PAC, according to cattlenetwork.com.

NCBA is overtly partisan. Its leadership is tight with the Bush White House and Republican leaders in Congress who share their world view. NCBA insiders participate freely in Washington's revolving door between industry and government employment.

USDA, the "People's Department," is full of NCBA operatives at the top. Charles Lambert, an

NCBA lobbyist for 14 years, is now Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Services. Lambert oversees many livestock programs, including the department's controversial BSE Surveillance Plan, and is in charge of policing the big meat packers regulated under the Packers and Stockyards Act. Another former NCBA lobbyist is Dale Moore, chief of staff to both former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and her successor, Mike Johanns.

Many cattlemen believe the NCBA is driven by a narrow, conservative political ideology that reflects the views of the large agribusiness interests who run the show, rather than the majority of grass-roots beef producers who pay the bills via the mandatory check-off and membership dues.

Although NCBA claims to be the largest organization representing America's cattle industry,

McDonnell points out that many of those memberships are involuntary.

NCBA has rapidly been losing support of at the grassroots level, Bullard said, "because they represent interests other than those of actual cattle producers." In addition to state beef councils and other industry groups, NCBA membership includes the largest meat packers.

Four firms-Tyson, Cargill, Swift & Co., and National Beef Packing Co.-control 83.5% of the

U.S. beef packing market, according to a February 2005 study by Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan of the University of Missouri-Columbia. Many observers believe the resulting lack of competition has depressed cattle prices for farmers and ranchers while driving up supermarket beef prices. That influence can be seen in NCBA's support for packer priorities, which include swift reopening of the Canadian border, stonewalling on country of origin labeling, free trade with Latin America, and opposing limits on packer ownership or control of

livestock prior to slaughter.

Largest voluntary group

R-CALF USA, with more than 18,000 dues-paying members, is the largest voluntary cattlemen's

group in the country, McDonnell said. The emphasis on "voluntary."

The membership includes ranchers and other beef and dairy beef producers, cattle backgrounders

and feedlot operators, auction yard operators, veterinarians, and other main street rural businesses that serve the cattle industry. Affiliated associations formally supporting R-CALF USA's work include over 60 cattle and farm organizations in 47 states.

The organization maintains offices at Billings, Montana and Washington, DC, with a handful of paid staffers coordinating an army of enthusiastic, unpaid grass-roots volunteers.

R-CALF USA operates on "a strictly nonpartisan basis and narrowly focuses on issues affecting

the pocketbooks of producers," Bullard said. Its members and affiliated organizations span the broad political spectrum.

R-CALF's budget has grown to $2.3 million this year, from $350,000 in 2000. Bullard said individual dues were set at $50 per member regardless of size to keep membership affordable. Volunteer donations to R-CALF USA "benefit rollover calf auctions" generated $886,000 in the first quarter of 2005 alone.

Unlike feeders who use less competitive formula-pricing contracts with packers, "independent

feeders of all sizes who desire a viable cattle industry are natural allies with local auction yards and the live cattle producers we represent," said Bullard.

Beef industry divisions tend to be based on the different interests of full-time vs. part-time cattle producers rather than the regional issues that split the dairy industry, he observed.

Despite its concerns about the industry giants, R-CALF USA has "great relations with some small packers," McDonnell said. "People who service our industry, especially the rancher end, understand the importance of having a healthy customer base."

Membership skyrockets

At a time when other farm groups have been struggling to maintain membership numbers and participation, R-CALF USA has experienced phenomenal growth. R-CALF USA reported in late June that its membership more than doubled from 8,000 to over 18,000 in less than a year.

Growth has been spectacular across a broad swath of the Northern Plains and upper Midwest, from Montana to Iowa and Wisconsin and beyond.

R-CALF USA's Nebraska chapter alone has raised more $150,000 so far this year through calf

auctions and other fundraisers, and has seen its membership swell from 800 to more than 2,800 since 2004.

Growth has been slower in the Southern Plains and Mississippi Delta region, but R-CALF USA

members are pushing forward there as well.

South Dakota offers a good example of R-CALF USA's effectiveness in winning loyal converts. South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, a conservative group with historically deep ties to the old National Cattlemen's Association, broke away from NCBA in 2000 and now supports R-CALF USA.

Chuck Groth, veteran communications director and lobbyist for the South Dakota Farmers Union who is now semi-retired, observed that R-CALF USA has gained many members among ranchers and stockmen in South Dakota's West River area. Over the past decade, ranchers in this staunchly conservative half of the state became increasingly disenchanted with NCBA's behavior on important pocketbook issues like the beef checkoff and mandatory livestock price

reporting, he said.

Groth called it a remarkable transformation. "They (R-CALF USA) completely shifted the attitudes of folks out West who don't shift that easily."

Dairy appeal

While R-CALF USA focuses exclusively on beef, its members share a common interest with dairy farmers on many trade and marketing issues. Dairy cows and heifers averaged about 14% of the 95 million head in U.S. cattle herds in recent years - even more counting dairy steers and calves under 500 pounds. "We've got some really good dairy participation," with the trade case and Canadian border issues, McDonnell said.

In Wisconsin, for example, R-CALF USA's membership has grown from 21 to 130 in just the

past year, said state membership chairman Dave Matthes of Viola, a cattle dealer and leader of the Wisconsin Independent Livestock Dealers Association. Two recent calf auctions at Bloomington, Wisconsin and Decorah, Iowa raised $37,000 for RCALF USA, he said.

Matthes said continuing packer consolidation across Wisconsin and the region is one of many good reasons for dairy producers to join R-CALF USA.

Many dairymen have been angered by NCBA's history of lobbying against their interests on trade, supply management, and other policy matters.

R-CALF USA on the issues

R-CALF USA members set policy and elect leaders in true democratic fashion.

"All members vote by mail-in ballot with one member-one vote," to elect directors, set policy, and conduct other business, Bullard said. Mail balloting allows for participation by members who are too busy or distant to attend the meeting.

Only members who own cattle are eligible to vote, he said. Associate members who support R-CALF USA's work but do not own cattle, do not vote.

Despite co-founder Herman Schumacher's deep interest in beef checkoff reform, McDonnell noted that members at R-CALF USA's first meeting in Rapid City, South Dakota, decided not to get involved in checkoff litigation. "Cattlemen were not united on the issue. Instead, we back the right of cattlemen to have periodic votes on the checkoff," he said.

Members chose to concentrate their resources and efforts like a laser beam on a few big issues, where R-CALF USA has had a huge impact.

BSE/Canadian border closing

One of R-CALF-USA's biggest issues is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow disease. This contagious, brain-wasting disease has been deadly for infected humans, cattle prices, and beef exports in countries with large BSE outbreaks.

R-CALF USA has called for much more stringent surveillance and testing protocols, tougher enforcement of the ruminant feed ban, and other safeguards to protect the U.S. market from meat and cattle imported from countries with confirmed cases of BSE. The group also has supported small meat packers seeking federal authorization to do their own voluntary testing.

The U.S. closed the border to Canadian cattle imports in May 2003 when Canada found its first

domestic case of BSE. That was followed later that year by the first confirmed U.S. case of Mad Cow disease in a dairy cow traced back to Canada.

With the border closed and U.S. cattle prices rising, meat packers and their allies began pushing for the rapid resumption of Canadian cattle imports. USDA responded in January 2005 with a final rule proposing to resume imports of Canadian live cattle under 30 months of age and additional beef products effective March 7, 2005.

"USDA determined that trade goals were a higher priority than maintaining the health and safety

of U.S. consumers," Bullard said. Finding USDA's BSE safeguards to be woefully inadequate, R-CALF USA on January 10 filed a lawsuit in federal court to keep the U.S. border closed.

Judge Richard Cebull of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, approving R-CALF USA's request for a preliminary injunction to keep the border closed, and urging the group to seek a permanent injunction.

R-CALF USA's injunction was supported by a friend of the court brief filed by 67 U.S. groups representing more than 50 million members. Among them were Consumer Federation of America, National Farmers Union, Public Citizen, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and many independent state cattlemen's associations.

NCBA "revealed its true position," Bullard said, by filing a brief in support of USDA's BSE proposal, along with American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council, 29 state cattlemen's associations, and 18 state Farm Bureaus.

Canadian cattle imports resumed after a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court in Seattle reversed Judge Cebull's order on July 14. However, the issue is far from resolved.


Trade is one of R-CALF USA's top issues - specifically the CAFTA agreement that that passed

the U.S. House of Representatives by a two-vote margin July 20.

Among R-CALF USA's objections are the agreement's failure to identify cattle and beef as import-sensitive products, and its lack of appropriate safeguards for American producers.

CAFTA's rules of origin are a big concern. "Under the current proposal, cattle and beef can come into CAFTA countries from other South American nations that are not part of the agreement and be changed somewhat so the end product could then qualify as a product of CAFTA," McDonnell said.

He emphasized that CAFTA "offers no realistic market" and "sets a dangerous precedent and blueprint for future trade agreement with South American countries."

"Our biggest challenge is to make sure trade liberalization is enhancing and not destructive to cattle producers," said McDonnell. "It's time we develop a trade model for U.S. cattle producers that ensures we stay profitable."

R-CALF USA leaders left on a fact finding trip to Central America in late June to assess CAFTA

beef trade realities on the ground through meetings with packers, ranchers and cattle groups.

Country of origin labeling

R-CALF USA has been a leading proponent of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) provisions included in the 2002 Farm Bill. COOL mandates that beef, pork, lamb, fish and certain other food products be labeled to accurately inform consumers of the product's national origins.

The USA label may be used only on meat, including ground beef, from animals born, raised and

processed exclusively in the U.S. Supporters believe that COOL is an important marketing tool that allows farmers to differentiate their meat products from competing imports in the supermarket. COOL is a truth in labeling law that allows concerned consumers to make informed choices about the origin of their food purchases and to support domestic producers.

Meat packers, retailers, and other foes have blocked implementation of COOL, alleging it would

be too expensive. R-CALF USA has worked to build a broad coalition of 95 groups representing 50 million U.S. consumers who last November called on Congress to reject any attempt to weaken or repeal COOL in the Fiscal 2005 appropriations process.

COOL proponents suffered a setback recently when a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee

approved FY 2006 agriculture funding provisions that would delay implementation of red meat labeling until September 30, 2007.

No Frills For R-CALF Leaders

R-CALF USA's 10-member director board is composed of cattle owners representing nine

geographic regions over 47 states, and one region representing Native American cattle producers.

Unlike their counterparts in many national organizations who are attracted by per diems, deluxe travel accommodations and other perks, R-CALF USA directors serve largely at their own expense. President Leo McDonnell Jr. said he receives travel expenses only. Directors are elected to three-year terms and are limited to two consecutive terms.

Some leadership changes are coming. The organization's co-founders, including McDonnell, are not eligible for re-election when their current terms expire early next year.

New directors will be nominated at RCALF USA's convention in Denver in late January 2006, and will be elected by mail ballot.

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Jim Eichstadt, of DeForest, Wisconsin, was raised on his family's South Dakota beef farm and has long been involved with dairy, beef, and trade policy issues.

Note: Adjacent to this story, The Milkweed also ran a copy of the R-CALF USA ad that ran in the Washington Post earlier this year.


Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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South East Kansas
Haymaker, I have a good friend who is a dairyman who was instrumental in getting the Milkweed (the dairy industry) paper behind this story. He made numerous calls to their editor about R-CALF and got him to check them out.


Well-known member
Feb 13, 2005
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Tommy said:
Haymaker, I have a good friend who is a dairyman who was instrumental in getting the Milkweed (the dairy industry) paper behind this story. He made numerous calls to their editor about R-CALF and got them out.

Well Tommy,you tell your friend, thanks for me my hat is always off to a man doing the right thing................good luck

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