USDA Hearings Held In Denver Secretary Glickman A No Show.
By Leesa Kiewel
Shane Kolb, Meadow, SD, Chairman of the Western Organization of Resource Council’s Ag Issue Team wasn’t surprised that Shania Twain didn’t show up for the USDA Hearings in Denver on September 21. Kolb wasn’t surprised that Ag Secretary Dan Glickman didn’t show either.
“There’s a new country song on the charts right now by Bill Engvall that describes the word ‘awesome’,” said Kolb in a moment of levity. “According to Engvall, awesome would occur in my life if Shania Twain met me at my motel room door wearing nothing but a fur coat, holding a note from my wife that said ‘have a good time’. There’s a greater chance that Ms. Twain will meet me at my door this evening than there is any chance at all of USDA adopting the WORC petition and restoring any chance I have to a fair and equitable cattle market,” he said.
With that statement, the USDA public forum on captive supplies in Denver got underway. Approximately 200 spectators were on hand at the Denver Airport Holiday Inn to listen as the panelists testified regarding the WORC petition. The petition, which was filed with USDA in October 1996 calls
for a firm, fixed-base price on forward contracts and asks that cattle ownership by packers be prohibited unless they are offered for bid in an open and public manner.
The latest round of USDA-scheduled hearings, is suggested by USDA officials as an attempt to gather further evidence on the issue. Others like Kathleen Kelly, Vice-President of R-Calf, say the hearings are just another attempt to make producers ‘feel like something is being done, when in reality nothing is being done.’ The proceedings were video taped by USDA. The day-long hearings consisted of three panels. Panel One was identified as Industry Experts including Kolb, Rosemary Mucklow, Executive Director National Meat Association; Chuck Hassebrook, Program Director Center For Rural Affairs; George Hall, President National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; Michael Stumo, General Counsel Organization For Competitive Markets; Ken Bull, Vice-President for Procurement Excel Corporation; Dave Carter, President Rocky Mountain Farmers Union; Gary Teague, President Teague Diversified, Inc.
Teague, a cattle feeder from northeastern Colorado and Kolb, a rancher from northwestern South Dakota were the only producers visible on the panels. Panel Two, identified as Academic Experts, included Dr. Neil Harl, Professor of Economics, Iowa State University; Dr. Ted Schroeder, Professor of Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University; Dr. Peter Carstensen, George H. Young-Bascom Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin Law School; Dr. Wayne Purcell, Professor of Agricultural Economics, Virginia Tech; Dr. Catherine Durham, Assistant Professor and Ag Economist, Oregon State University; Dr. John Schroeter, Associate Professor of Economics, Iowa State University.
Panel Three, which concluded the day’s events was moderated by James Baker, Administrator USDA Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration, was a question and answer session including all panelists. USDA required that questions for the panelists be written on index cards and submitted prior to the final session.
Panel One, which convened at 8:00 a.m., and Panel Two, convening in the afternoon, were provided with five questions to supplement discussions held during the forum.The National Meat Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Excel Corporation and Teaque squared off against Kolb, representing WORC, the Center for Rural Affairs, Organization for Competitive Markets and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union to debate the causes and effects of the petition, and to present their respective organization’s policy on the issue.
Under the watchful eye of IBP Vice-President of Cattle Procurement Bruce Bass and representatives of Texas Cattle Feeders and Kansas Livestock Association, George Hall, NCBA President presented current NCBA policy saying, “NCBA will not recommend the limitation of any method of marketing fed cattle. NCBA supports a free market system where buyers and sellers negotiate contracts for their own mutual benefit. No action is to be taken to alter or halt current trends toward private business arrangements among operators in the various sectors of the beef industry. While we empathize with current low prices experienced by grain producers in the face of recent record production prices for calves and yearlings have increased and farmers and ranchers have recovered from the crisis of 1996. Conditions have improved dramatically since the doldrums of the mid-1990’s. NCBA is an organization where decisions are made democratically. We have an open forum for debate, discussion and deliberative policy making. NCBA policy is not determined by staff, university researchers or by chance. Our membership has consistently said that we want access to business opportunities that help us improve our bottom line. If policy were enacted that would ban packer ownership or control of livestock, the marketplace would go back to ‘buying on the average’, in essence, allowing packers to pay less for higher quality livestock. This would impact the bottom line of many producers who utilize grid formulas and value-based marketing systems to achieve a premium. Such a policy would hurt producers, which is why NCBA has policy opposing any legislation that would ban packer-ownership or control of livestock.”
Hall prefaced his comments saying, “NCBA is a producer-directed and consumer-focused trade association of America’ cattle farmers and ranchers, and the marketing organization for the largest segment of the nation’s food and fiber industry.”
Kolb responded to Hall’s statement saying, “I can appreciate concerns about the global market, and the benefits achieved through support of a global marketplace by a national organization. From where I sit, I sell to one buyer and that’s usually Cargill. Cargill might be reaping the benefits of a global market but they aren’t sharing them with me,” he said.
Teague, pointing to empty chairs, asked why more producers weren’t present at the hearings. “I know why they aren’t here,” he said. “We’ve got $1.10 five weight calves, and producers are happy now. They don’t come to meetings like this when they’re satisfied with their markets,” he stated. Although the hearings were well controlled, Teague’s remark brought a response from a member of the audience who said, “You’ve got it wrong. They’re not here because they’re broke.” During the question and answer session Teague was asked if he had packer owned cattle in his Colorado feedlot, and he responded that he did. When Baker asked if he would like to expound on that fact, Teague declined.
Excel’s Procurement Vice-President, Ken Bull was absent during the question and answer session to the dismay of some. “It’s not right that one of the panelists didn’t participate in the final session,” said a Wyoming producer. “If USDA solicited panelists like Bull they should have ensured his availability for the question and answer process or he shouldn’t have been allowed to participate,” he said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, WORC officials expressed concern that the process would not result in definitive action by USDA under the Glickman Administration. “We knew going in this hearing process was mostly a dog and pony show. However, the academic experts all admitted that we have a dysfunctional cattle market today and that’s a first. They don’t necessarily agree on the solutions necessary to remedy the crisis, but they all agreed publicly that more bidding is necessary,” said Don Nelson, Keene, ND, Chairman of the Dakota Resource Council, an affiliate of WORC.
“You have to question the process when one of the experts on the panel is on the IBP payroll as a paid expert witness in the Pickett vs. IBP case,” he said. “One of the most positive things to come out of the Denver hearing are the number of alllies who have signed onto the WORC petition. During the Denver hearing, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, the Livestock Marketing Association, Kansas Cattleman’s Association all came on board. This is quickly growing into a coordinated effort amongst organizations that represent hundreds of thousands of producers across the nation,” said Nelson.