In December of 1996, Governor William Janklow held a cattle conference in Pierre, South Dakota. Seven presenters were invited to discuss the state of the cattle industry before a crowd of around 1,000 people, from farm and ranch families to main street businesses and auction market operators.
The cattle industry had been in decline, and was still experiencing some very tough times with no relief in sight. The citizens of South Dakota were concerned.
Unfortunately, nothing of any significance has been done since then, although there is renewed hope as of July 9, 2021: Momentous White House Executive Order Aims to Break the Corporate Stranglehold in Food and Farming
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – Conference Introduction
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – Bob Peterson Presentation
“Whenever markets get thin or tough and live prices decline their [cattle producers] favorite scapegoat has been the packer, and especially IBP.”
“In 1989, I told your industry that if packers were allowed to feed their own cattle, IBP would do whatever was necessary to compete.”
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – William Heffernan Presentation
“The food system is not becoming different than other sectors of the economy. It is becoming more like the other sectors.”
“The Appalachia area has never known prosperity because all the economic benefits were siphoned out of that rural community. What’s happening as we move towards increased industrialization and corporate takeover of agriculture; we see the same thing happening in our rural communities.”
“When corporations come into our communities, the return to the community is cut precipitously…all economic benefits were siphoned from the community.”
“The movement towards industrialization is to make our beef producers like poultry growers.”
“When will we begin to import poultry?”
“Who will work for the least? The hungriest.”
“I would argue that anti-NAFTA, anti-GATT are actually anti-corporate issues.”
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – John Wyld
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – David Stroud Presentation
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – Kathleen Kelley Presentation
“Why are we teaching kids to get jobs, instead of teaching kids to create jobs?”
“A lot of folks like to rant and rave about losing market share to chicken and pork. We just lost 17% of our beef market share to beef – foreign beef.”
“One company alone controls 38% of the market, and its next closest competitors control a respective 21% and 20% of the market. The battle we’re in today isn’t just about the price that we receive for our livestock or the number of cattle we raise. It’s far deeper than that, extending to the heart of democracy itself …”
“If there is a supply problem at all, it isn’t in cattle, it’s in the number of buyers we have for cattle.”
“It’s a farce to call a market of less than four buyers in a nation of 264 million consumers competitive. It’s nothing less than predatory.”
“Democracy cannot survive a concentrated economy.”
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – Andrew Gottschalk Presentation
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference Mike Callicrate Presentation
“The single most important fear heard across the country from cattle producers is that concentration in the packing industry is, in fact, adversely impacting the absolute level of finished cattle prices.”
“Today, with three packers and captive supplies, it’s easier for the packer to buy cattle cheaper than to sell meat higher.”
“…there is no stopping it (concentration). This is an evolution that’s going to take place in spite of whoever is in the way.” – Robert Peterson, IBP Chairman and CEO, July 1996
“Highly concentrated environments that don’t pay the producer his fair share of those food dollars smothers the entrepreneurial spirit and kills wealth creation.”
“Breakup current packers, limit them to 7% of the market. IBP controls 38% …”
1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference – Conference Panel & Conclusion
During the panel discussion, I got Peterson’s full and undivided attention when I asked, “You say captive supplies are 21%, I tell you that may be true some day, but what about the weeks when they are 80%, what about the week when IBP stepped out of the cash market in 1994, stayed out for six weeks. The cash market dropped seventeen dollars. Peterson shouted, “That’s a bold-faced lie, a bold-faced lie.”
Johnny Smith, local auction market operator and hero for fair markets, asked Peterson, “You say IBP doesn’t import, what are all those cattle trucks coming in from Canada down I-29 to your Dakota City plant?” Peterson barked, “Those are not imports!” I calmly leaned forward so I could see Peterson around the other five panel members between us, and addressed Peterson directly, “Bob, those are imports.” The panelists were looking back and forth at each other, pushing back, preparing for another explosion. Listen to the panel video. You won’t believe how Peterson defines imports.
Today, twenty-five years later, nearly half our cattle producers are out of business and 75%, or around 83,000 independent feedyards are gone, along with the competitive market that once rewarded cattle producers 65% of the consumer dollar, compared to today’s 41%.
Fredrick Douglas reminds us that power must be matched with power:
“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
So far, government has lacked the will to enforce antitrust laws, leaving divided cattlemen as easy prey to the big meatpacker, big retailer, and food service predators.