How much income has the cattle producer lost to the meatpacking and Big Food cartel?

The USDA retail beef price report from July 13, 2021 quotes the average Choice beef price at $7.46 per pound with the average live cattle price at $120/cwt.

A finished cattle weight of 1,400 lbs. x 42% retail yield = 588 lbs. of saleable retail beef/head. x $7.46/lb. = $4,386/hd. value at the consumer retail level.

This doesn’t include big meatpacker income from drop credits of approximately $190/hd. or the higher value Prime beef and branded products like Certified Angus Beef.

The  chart shows farm share at 35.8%.

If we were still receiving 65% of the consumer dollar from a market with many buyers and high levels of competition as in the 1970’s, the producer would be receiving $2,851/hd. or $2.03/lb. live wt.

Ranch Foods Direct custom-cut cattle customers that sell direct to their customers have received around 79% after paying the costs for slaughter and processing. So, who is more efficient?

The producer share fell to 27% during May of 2020.

The declining farm share of the the retail food dollar is an indicator of market power and proof of the inefficiencies and unfairness of the existing monopolized Big Food system, that according to the above USDA chart, is leaving the struggling cattle producer with a bankrupting 35.8%.

$120/cwt. live cattle price ($1.20 per pound per chart) is 83 cents per lb. less ($2.03-$1.20) than a competitive market should be paying, for a loss to the producer of $1,171 per head, and a drastic decline in rural economies.

Building new local/regional, decentralized food systems, along with better government policy can help fix this threat to our food and national security.

Posted in General Advocacy | Leave a comment

What’s the Beef? How the Beef Packing Cartel Hurts Producers and Consumers and How Independent Cattle Producers and Processors Can Help Restore Competition and Choice


What’s the Beef? How the Beef Packing Cartel Hurts Producers and Consumers and How Independent Cattle Producers and Processors Can Help Restore Competition and Choice

July 13, 2021 | Diana L. Moss , Mike Callicrate , Patrick Robinette

Food & Agriculture

In this podcast, AAI President Diana Moss sits down with two leaders in the independent sector to discuss the fallout from decades of massive consolidation and rising concentration in beef packing. Her guests, Mike Callicrate and Patrick Robinette, run innovative, independent business operations in two different parts of the US. They discuss the state of competition in U.S. beef packing, which is dominated by four packing firms that control over 80% of the market. Next, they turn to problems of market access for smaller ranchers and processors and deceptive labeling that deprives consumers of informed choices. The conversation reveals that an industrial food system with little competition packs significant inefficiency and susceptibility to shocks like COVID-19. On the other hand, smaller operations provide needed competition and resiliency in the beef supply. Moss, Callicrate, and Robinette close with the importance of stronger antitrust enforcement in the beef packing sector and USDA initiatives that promote competition, price transparency, and the importance of alternative supply systems.


Diana Moss, President, American Antitrust Institute


Mike Callicrate is a farmer-rancher, business entrepreneur and family farm advocate. Mike formed Ranch Foods Direct in 2000, a branded beef company and retail and online food store in Colorado Springs. His company also operates a regional food hub, helping to collect and distribute locally produced food.


Patrick Robinette’s family has raised high quality, grass-fed cattle for years in North Carolina. In 2012 they formed Micro Summit Processors, with a focus on cattle harvesting and processing. Patrick’s business responds to consumers demand for food transparency.


Listen to podcast: What’s the Beef?  

Posted in General Advocacy | 1 Comment

1996 South Dakota Governor’s Cattle Conference Fails to Prevent Industry Decline

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.

Posted in General Advocacy | 1 Comment

The Current State of U.S. Agriculture and Food Infrastructure, and Solutions

By Mike Callicrate

June 27, 2021

“Livestock should be at the center of the new farm and ranching operations. We need to think about how we build soil health, how we sequester carbon through well-manged grazing programs.”

“We need to reassert, what is purpose of antitrust? It’s to prevent monopoly!”

What’s the difference? Thanks to Brenna Quinlan.

Posted in General Advocacy | 2 Comments

No Competition Can Be Terrifying

Note: The following article first published nearly twenty years ago. Finally, after this week’s Senate hearing on meatpacking abuse, we are looking at possible solutions.

Calves at Callicrate Cattle Company will need a market.

By Mike Callicrate

August 1, 2002

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) asked the question in their last “Directions” publication, “What is the biggest challenge facing seedstock companies?”

“Surviving the terrorist among us who wants to eliminate the beef checkoff, outlaw grid marketing, bankrupt the packers, and in general raise all kinds of chaos is the beef industry’s biggest challenge. If they want to commit suicide, that is their own business. I strongly resent their efforts to wreck the economy of the entire beef industry,” said Mark Gardiner, Gardiner Angus Ranch, Ashland, KS, one of the organizers of U.S. Premium Beef (USPB), partner of Farmland/National Beef, the nation’s fourth largest packer.

“What will happen to the cash market if USPB, wanting to supply half of Farmland/National’s needs, gives their cattle to Farmland/National without negotiating price?”

I remember attending a USPB membership drive meeting where the question was raised about whether USPB would become a major captive supply source for the fourth largest meatpacker Farmland/National and, if so, wouldn’t that have a negative impact on the cash market, considering that Farmland/National was the only remaining big packer not using captive supplies and bidding almost exclusively in the competitive cash market. “What will happen to the cash market if USPB, wanting to supply half of Farmland/National’s needs, gives their cattle to Farmland/National without negotiating price?” USPB CEO Steve Hunt responded that USPB captive supplies would likely have a negative effect on the cash market, but as a member of USPB, you would become a packer and more than make up the difference in price on the meat side of the business. Feeling vulnerable, desperate, shut out of the cash market, and left with no other choice but to “Join-em”, reluctant cattle feeders began signing up.

“USPB CEO Steve Hunt responded that USPB captive supplies would likely have a negative effect on the cash market, but as a member of USPB, you would become a packer…”

We now know that for the investment of approximately $54 per head in USPB stock, giving the owner the right and obligation to deliver cattle to Farmland/National, much has been lost, including the cash market for finished cattle and many of our cattlemen neighbors. Since 1978, when the big four packers controlled 36 percent of the steer and heifer slaughter compared with 82 percent today, concentration and the resulting market power has cost cattle producers approximately $400 per head of their share of the record high price the consumer pays today for fresh steaks, roasts, and ground beef.

Of course, USPB cattle feeders can be consoled in their desperation and bankrupting losses with last year’s $25.87 per head premiums they received over the manipulated and arbitrary cash market price their non-captive supply competitors received. A small consolation today with the cash market at $62/cwt and losses as much as $225 per head. And still left unexplained, last week some of the top premium grid cattle, grading 85% choice, netted back a deeply discounted $59/cwt at the same time consumers buy beef priced off an $85 cattle market. While packers and retailers swim in record profits, it looks like wounded USPB members have been swindled into buying their own hanging rope.

Mark Gardiner may not realize it yet, but his bull customers, who are part of the cattle industry, distinct and separate from the “beef industry,” will be needing fewer of his bulls as they go broke selling cattle on the discount weighted big packer grids. Instead of profiting from a USPB sponsored market for his bulls, he might be caught in the same deadly alliance trap he has helped set for others.

“Perhaps the terrorist label might be better applied to the Tyson/IBP – Walmart dominated big meat packer/retailer monopoly that is stealing from farmers and ranchers …”

Ranchers and rural communities have far more to lose in land, cattle, and income by participating in the abusive Tyson/IBP, Cargill, ConAgra, Farmland/National type alliances and supply chain snares than chicken farmers lost when they fell for the same scam some thirty years ago.

Perhaps the terrorist label might be better applied to the Tyson/IBP – Walmart dominated big meat packer/retailer monopoly that is stealing from farmers and ranchers, destroying our safe and dependable food supply, and threatening the well-being of our precious rural communities instead of being used to defame, libel and slander those of us that are sacrificing all we have to preserve the economic freedom and social well-being that only a fair, open and competitive market system can provide.

Posted in General Advocacy | Leave a comment