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Ranchers buck U.S. beef policy

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HAY MAKER

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Ranchers buck U.S. beef policy
Maverick organization says closing border to Canadian cattle keeps out mad cow, allows members to profit
By Andrew Martin
Tribune national correspondent

July 3, 2005

CUERO, Texas -- When Bill Bullard is making a speech to cattle ranchers, it's always a good sign when the parking lot is full of new pickups, as was the case on a recent evening at the VFW hall on the outskirts of this tiny town in south Texas.

Bullard is the executive director of R-CALF USA, a maverick organization of ranchers fighting to keep the U.S. border closed to Canadian cattle, an effort that was precipitated by the discovery of Canada's first case of mad cow disease in May 2003.

Bullard argues that the border needs to remain sealed because of uncertainty over mad cow, an assertion that he says was reinforced by the June 24 announcement of the second case of mad cow disease in the U.S. But he is also quick to remind ranchers of a more practical benefit: In the two years since the U.S. border was sealed, beef prices for American ranchers have never been higher.

"Our industry suffered staggering losses," Bullard said, noting the period of low prices for beef prior to 2003, even as demand was increasing. "We were an industry in decline. This resulted in the hollowing out of rural communities all across America.

"You are now being rewarded in the best functioning industry you've seen in at least 15 years," Bullard said, as he paced back and forth before a row of cattlemen and their wives. "Folks, raise your hands if you'd like to return to the old way?"

Just 7 years old, R-CALF is reaping the benefits of soaring beef prices and growing protectionist sentiments among ranchers and farmers, as evidenced by mounting concerns about the flood of agricultural imports and strong opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which is working its way through Congress.

R-CALF USA, an acronym for Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, has been adding members by the thousands, largely because it has thumbed its nose at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, its better-known and better-connected rival. In the last year alone, R-CALF's membership increased from 8,000 to more than 18,000.

R-CALF argues that the USDA and the cattlemen's association are more interested in protecting the powerful meatpacking industry than looking out for ranchers. As a result, R-CALF has staked out opposite positions on some of the most controversial topics in agriculture, favoring mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat, for instance, while opposing CAFTA.

R-CALF has also called on the Agriculture Department to conduct much more aggressive testing for mad cow disease, and the group is seeking stricter feed bans to prevent such things as cow blood and poultry litter from being fed to cattle.

But it was R-CALF's successful legal action to stop the USDA's efforts to reopen the U.S. border to Canadian cattle that ignited its popularity with ranchers. The U.S. now allows Canadian beef that is de-boned, boxed and under 30 months of age into the United States, and is trying to loosen the rules further by allowing live cattle under 30 months of age.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebell ruled in R-CALF's favor in March of this year, and he strongly chastised the USDA for assuming the risk of mad cow disease in Canada was very low without having evidence to back it up.

The USDA filed an appeal, which is slated for argument July 13. Michael Johanns, the normally mild-mannered secretary of agriculture, works himself into a lather when talking about R-CALF. Johanns argues that R-CALF is pushing an isolationist agenda that, despite some short-term gains, will hurt ranchers eventually.

"The day R-CALF endorses a trade agreement is the day you'll have to give me smelling salts," Johanns said in a recent interview. "I think their message is: We want to isolate our country. We like it better this way."

Johanns said the only way to expand the U.S. beef trade is by selling beef abroad, where demand is growing among the expanding middle class in Asia and Latin America. He also argued that beef prices are too high and American consumers may start turning to other sources of protein such as chicken and pork.

Mark Nelson, former membership chair for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said he was skeptical of R-CALF's membership numbers. He acknowledged that the cattlemen's beef association, which has about 27,000 members, has gotten smaller, but he said that was due to retirements and agricultural consolidation rather than competition from R-CALF.

Nelson, who is also a member of R-CALF, said he disagrees with many of the group's positions and contends that beef prices are high because of increased demand, not because Canadian beef is being excluded. He said R-CALF's strategy of criticizing the cattlemen's beef association will ultimately backfire.

"I'm in the real estate business, too, and I've found that the worst way to sell a piece of property is to downgrade another," said Nelson, who raises Angus cattle. "I think their typical member is a guy whose father and grandfather made a living raising 200 cows, and they can't do it because the world is changing so they have to be mad at somebody."

But Neil Harl, an agriculture professor at Iowa State University, said R-CALF has provided an alternative for ranchers who were fed up with the national cattlemen's association policies and objectives.

"It's been an astounding success story for the organization," Harl said, noting that R-CALF's success comes at a time when many are questioning the outcome of free trade. "There's a lot of unease in the country right now about this."

In the VFW hall in Cuero, which means "rawhide" in Spanish and is located 90 minutes south of Austin, several ranchers said they supported R-CALF's positions because they have translated into dollars. Buddy Blackwell, who runs an auction business, pointed out all the new pickups in the parking lot and said keeping Canadian cattle out of the U.S. has meant millions to the local economy.

"People down here are building fences, fixing up ranches, buying new pickups," he said.

Bullard, who is originally from South Dakota and now works out of R-CALF's headquarters in Billings, Mont., sports a bushy mustache, speaks with a drawl and wears a cowboy hat and yards of denim. He would have fit right in among the Texas cattle ranchers were it not for his felt cowboy hat; on a summer evening in south Texas, ranchers wear much cooler straw cowboy hats.

Once Bullard grabbed a microphone, however, it didn't take him long to win over the 200 or so ranchers who turned out for his speech and a steak dinner afterward.

He argued that prior to the border closing, the marketplace was rigged in favor of the giant meatpackers, who have a vested interest in keeping cattle prices low. When prices in the United States started inching up, meatpackers would bring in cheaper cattle from Canada to bring prices back down, he said.

"We realized we needed to change the course of this industry," Bullard said, explaining why R-CALF was created. He said the organization is dedicated to making sure cattle ranchers don't suffer the same fate as poultry and hog farmers, many of whom have gone out of business or now work under contract to meatpackers.

Bullard, who spends about 150 days a year on the road a year making speeches, said his organization supports "fair trade" but not necessarily free trade.

"The promises and predictions made by these policy decisions have not come to fruition," he said. "We are now applying a different standard. We are no longer willing to support [trade deals] based on a promise."

Chuck Kiker, a rancher from Beaumont, said for that many ranchers, R-CALF is their best hope for staying afloat.

"To go back to the way we were, that's going to put a lot of producers out of business," said Kiker, the regional director of R-CALF. "In the last three years I've made more money on cattle than in the previous seven. If that's short-sighted, I'm sorry."

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
 

Kato

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"People down here are building fences, fixing up ranches, buying new pickups," he said.

Gee, people up here are moving to town, getting jobs, and watching their pickups being handed back to the bankers... :?

Have these guys never heard of the cattle cycle???

It was coming to the high end exactly when all this happened. It is due to start going down now, and it's got nothing to do with us, even though when the cycle turns and the prices start to drop, guess who will get blamed? I bet that would be us again, wouldn't it? :shock:

The Canadian border being closed has nothing to do with the cattle prices... In the U.S. It has everything to do with the cattle prices here.

You guys have as much Canadian beef in your country as you did pre-BSE. The only difference is that your big packers have the share of this high end of the cycle that would ordinarily go into the primary producers pockets.

With friends like that, who needs enemies? :!: All R-Calf has done for the American cattleman is create a very efficient competitor out of a potential ally, and strengthen the power of those same packers they love to hate.

Divide and conquer, that's how big agribusiness has dealt for years with ranchers and farmers. In the board rooms at Cargill they must just be laughing their heads off. We could have all worked together and maybe accomplished something, but NO, those bozo's just had to go and play right into big businesses hands. Big business and the anti-meat forces have played these guys like a fiddle, and they haven't got a clue that it happened.

As Forest Gump would say, "Stupid is as stupid does" :dunce: .
 

agman

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HAY MAKER said:
Ranchers buck U.S. beef policy
Maverick organization says closing border to Canadian cattle keeps out mad cow, allows members to profit
By Andrew Martin
Tribune national correspondent

July 3, 2005

CUERO, Texas -- When Bill Bullard is making a speech to cattle ranchers, it's always a good sign when the parking lot is full of new pickups, as was the case on a recent evening at the VFW hall on the outskirts of this tiny town in south Texas.

Bullard is the executive director of R-CALF USA, a maverick organization of ranchers fighting to keep the U.S. border closed to Canadian cattle, an effort that was precipitated by the discovery of Canada's first case of mad cow disease in May 2003.

Bullard argues that the border needs to remain sealed because of uncertainty over mad cow, an assertion that he says was reinforced by the June 24 announcement of the second case of mad cow disease in the U.S. But he is also quick to remind ranchers of a more practical benefit: In the two years since the U.S. border was sealed, beef prices for American ranchers have never been higher.

"Our industry suffered staggering losses," Bullard said, noting the period of low prices for beef prior to 2003, even as demand was increasing. "We were an industry in decline. This resulted in the hollowing out of rural communities all across America.

"You are now being rewarded in the best functioning industry you've seen in at least 15 years," Bullard said, as he paced back and forth before a row of cattlemen and their wives. "Folks, raise your hands if you'd like to return to the old way?"


Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

If the aforementioned comments were not just a bold faced lie and demagoguery it would be laughable. Instead it is totally pathetic. In an open debate this guy would get stuffed so badly all the R-Calfers and their shovels could not uncover him quickly enough to keep him from suffocating in his own BS.
 

Brad S

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I wonder who is troubled by the closing of the packing house at Gering, due partly to the arbitrary shortage of live cattle coming out of Canada.

Bullard, "You are now being rewarded in the best functioning industry you've seen in at least 15 years"

Losing packer options is NOT healthy for the long term cattle economy



Bullard, ""Our industry suffered staggering losses," Bullard said, noting the period of low prices for beef prior to 2003, even as demand was increasing. "We were an industry in decline. This resulted in the hollowing out of rural communities all across America."

There are some very valuable lessons to take from the struggles of 01, 02, 03, I hope everyone took notes.


We're getting drunk on $1.50 calves, $2 corn & 5% money, meanwhile Agman shows declining demand. Things are pretty good, but the good times are fleeting. Problem is, when RCALF tries to take credit for the events responsible for high prices, I wish they'd go into cause/effect rather than exploit a simple corrolation.
 

CattleCo

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"We're getting drunk on $1.50 calves, $2 corn & 5% money, meanwhile Agman shows declining demand. Things are pretty good, but the good times are fleeting."

I bet the sobering up process will be a little painful. :roll:
 

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