Fischer, Grassley continues as opposition grows to cash trades

Bringing the beef industry to the same page is never easy. It may be impossible to reach a consensus on legislation to make wholesale changes to the way cattle are bought and sold.

The two main sponsors of legislation that would introduce new reforms in the sector say they are not discouraged by the recent opposition to the key plan of the bill and intend to continue their efforts to see their idea transposed into law.

“I’m at full speed ahead,” Senator Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Said in an interview Agri-Pulse.

When Fischer and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Announce Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act in November, they and a group of bipartisan co-sponsors hailed it as a compromise effort to ensure the financial viability of all facets of the beef supply chain. The bill includes a number of changes, such as the creation of a library of cattle contracts and reporting requirements that are currently strengthened on the shoulders of beef packers. The main change, however, was the language imposing certain percentages of cash trade in different regions across the country.

But months later, two of Washington’s largest agricultural groups voted to oppose the bill’s regional cash trade mandate.

He came first American Federation of the Bureau of Agriculture, whose members voted narrowly to oppose the language of the mandate in January. Then he came last week’s vote by members of the National Beef Association, when members of a subcommittee voted 146-41 to approve the language that would bring the group into opposition and the language of the mandate.

Fighting tough agricultural politicians like the AFBF and the NCBA will no doubt be a challenging path for proponents of the bill, but both Grassley and Fischer say they have the support of producers in their states for the bill – even going as far as to question national law. organizations that now oppose it.

“Those who oppose efforts to improve market access for independent producers need to look seriously at the anti-competitive practices of large packers and ask themselves what interests they really serve – especially national organizations that claim to support American farmers.” Grassley told reporters Tuesday.

Fischer echoed those sentiments, saying, “I understand who is there listening to their constituents and who is trying to do good to them.”

The bill is still supported by the US Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union. President Joe Biden and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack they also have they said they appreciated the work on the bill, but they stopped before supporting the legislation.

Shortly after the NCBA board voted to approve the subcommittee’s language in opposition to the cash-in-office mandates, Ethan Lane, the group’s vice president of government affairs, said the new policy represents “the wishes of the largest collection of cattle in the country. ”

“I respect their opinion; they certainly listen to the producers in their state, ”Lane said of the senators who support the bill. “We have a lot of other perspectives that we have to weigh as a national organization. And we hope (senators) will at least listen to them and consider them as they move forward. ”

When the NCBA board took the final vote last week, several state delegations spoke out to express their opposition to what was a fairly final vote. One such group, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, said it still supports Grassley and Fischer’s legislation. Matt Deppe, the group’s CEO, said Agri-Pulse after the vote that the ICA has a “pro-mandate policy”.

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Both the NCBA and the AFBF have indicated that they support other aspects of the bill and only oppose cash-in-office mandates, but both Grassley and Fischer say they are not interested in separating the mandate from the rest of the legislation. If that happened, Grassley said he would “deny everything we try to do”; Fischer said that forcing the transaction is “the only way” to discover improved prices and that it is “absolutely necessary for this bill.”

This position puts Fischer, Grassley and the other 15 bipartisan co-sponsors of the bill not only in opposition to two large groups of farms, but also to a list of land-granting university economists hired by the Senate Ag Commission to look at the potential impacts of the legislation.

Grassley has previously expressed frustration with economists He said on Tuesday that economists were “manipulating the figures only to their advantage”. Their analysis, he said, focuses only on future impacts and does not take into account an August 2019 fire at a Tyson unit in Holcomb, Kansas, as well as the market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard to find a senator who openly gives up,” Grassley said. “Everything is from the outside.

“You involve these packers, they have a lot of political power,” he added. “Some of the lobbyists even have an inside track of some of the people involved.”

Ethan Lane, NCBA (Photo: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) The North American Meat Institute, which represents the nation’s meat producers, he also spoke out against the bill.

Fischer said he was in talks with committee leaders as well as USDA officials to “put the bill in good shape” through “technical changes that are suggested” by the department “to make sure we have the right language.” that we need to be able to have a good status that we will present and that will be in the law. “

If that were the case, a logical legislative way to advance change in cattle markets would be to re-authorize the USDA’s mandatory animal reporting system, which is currently authorized until February 18, as part of an ongoing resolution. The authorization is due to be completed by March 11, based on a temporary funding bill passed by the House on Tuesday. But moving market reforms as part of the re-authorization of MRLs would probably require more industry support than now.

Another possible vehicle for reforms would be legislation targeting the anticompetitive practices of technology companiessaid Grassley.

Lane says he would like to see MPs and other producer groups gather behind some of the less controversial reforms currently on the table.

“I think there is a broad consensus behind many of these articles. So this is the real question: is it really just a mandate? Or is it a set of options that help address the challenges we’ve seen in the market over the past two years? I think this is the right conversation to have right now. “

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