The current size of the U.S. cattle herd, including last year’s calf crop, hasn’t been this small since the late ‘40s, early ‘50s.  That is a major concern for cattlemen around the country, but maybe not as big a concern as other issues groups like the National Cattlemens’ Beef Association (NCBA) try to get resolved on a continuing basis.
       At last weekend’s winter meeting of the Wisconsin Cattlemens’ and Cattlewomens’ groups, new NCBA president Scott George of Cody, Wyoming, laid out a litany of issues his group works on every day, mainly in Washington D.C.  While some of the current events like the Russian ban on U.S. beef and pork products, the effects of sequestration and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s threat to furlough meat inspectors and the challenge to satisfy Canada and Mexico over our Country of Origin labeling law are all important issues, there are others that are keeping he and his staff just as busy.
        One of the most immediate issues that needs resolution George told us is the immigration and border control issue which is making it dangerous for cattle producers who operate along the U.S.-Mexican border.  The problem is that a lot of that land is under the control of the federal government and they don’t allow border patrol agents to use mechanized vehicles to patrol that territory.  That means agents have to use horses which allow illegal immigrants and drug dealers to come across the border and as George said, “use it as a superhighway to come in, sell their drugs and raid farms and ranches and even kill one rancher along the border.”  The cattlemen want the policy changed to allow mechanized vehicles so the border patrol has a better chance of enforcing border integrity.  On immigration, George says there needs to be a change in the H2A program which allows for seasonal workers in agriculture.  Cattlemen and dairy producers, like George who milks 550 cows and runs a cow-calf herd with his brothers and nephews outside Cody, need and deserve a guest worker program that allows for migrant workers to come into this country on a more long term basis than the seasonal worker program we now have. He said, “That is a real strong priority.  We need to get that worker program fixed.” George said he is hopeful Congress will make the necessary changes in the H2A program and is encouraged “because at least they’re talking about it now.”
    Another major initiative of NCBA is ADUFA, or the Animal Drug User Fee Act.  That act would allow Pharmaceutical companies to pay a fee to the federal government, which George says they are willing to do, in order to speed up the approval process for new products to come on the market. It comes up for consideration on a regular basis but as George explained, “Every time it comes up the anti-antibiotic people turn out in droves to delay it because they want to restrict anti-biotic use in animals.”
They don’t understand, George explained, that livestock and dairy producers are very conscientious in their use of those products and they can only be used under a veterinarians’ supervision.
      George also said, like everyone in agriculture, a new farm bill needs to be done now so farmers and ranchers have certainty going forward this spring.  NCBA, like other farm organizations, are also worried that the longer the debate on farm legislation drags on, the more call there will be to split farm programs from food and nutrition initiatives and that wouldn’t be good for agriculture.  Programs that could be sacrificed with split legislation, he said, are conservation programs, disaster assistance programs for drought or floods or other natural disasters, and a loss of research dollars for agriculture, “even though we need to produce more and more food to feed a growing world population.”  He emphasized that if we have stand alone legislation, “We will have an extremely hard time EVER getting farm legislation through the Congress.”
    A fourth major emphasis of NCBA is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to change the Clean Water Act by adjusting some of the language in the law.  George says EPA officials want to remove the word navigable when referring to the waters of the United States the EPA would have jurisdiction over.  Without that word, he says, “EPA would have jurisdiction over all waters—ditch waters, irrigation waters, and even puddles on the side of the road.  Their concern isn’t with water quality but control as that could force producers to get a permit just to drive along a ditch if there’s water there.”
As he fears, “If the government can control water like that, they can control the world, at least the world of agriculture.”  He said EPA officials have already written a water guidance document that removes the word navigable even though it has been defeated twice in Congress and a few times in the courts.  But as George fears, “they’re gonna keep trying”.
     Their fifth major initiative is exports and market access around the world for beef and beef products.  While he cited successes in recently enacted free trade agreements and Japan’s decision to allow beef from animals 30 months and younger, there are trouble spots.  Russia has just banned our meat products and American beef is having a difficult time getting into the lucrative and huge Chinese market.  He said the key to success in export markets is diversification so a problem in one part of the world doesn’t undermine the entire industry and cause huge price swings in these days of high feed prices.