Packers have capacity, but…

Workers busy at the Sam Kane Beef slaughterhouse in Corpus Christi, TX. 

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to “enforce or examine our antitrust laws to restore fairness to the marketplace” for cattle producers, and are urging other members of the Senate and House to sign the letter.

The letter was released ahead of its submission by R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America), which has launched a campaign to convince 200 members from the House and Senate to add their names to the letter.

Ranchers are upset that boxed beef prices are rising while cattle prices remain stagnant. R-CALF USA held a Facebook Live event to launch the campaign for more congressional signatures. On the event, Rounds said it is vital for cattle producers to take their issues to the consumers, and urged R-CALF members to bring the letter to the attention of consumers outside their home states.

South Dakota is one of nine states where livestock outnumber people. There is a lot of support for market transparency in those nine states, Rounds said, but those states represent only 5 percent of the U.S. population. Consumers are aware that beef prices are rising, but need to be informed that cattlemen are not sharing in those prices, he said.

In the middle of this situation “are the meatpackers,” Rounds said. He noted that most meatpacking in the country is controlled by four companies and said the Justice Department needs to examine whether that level of concentration is legal under antitrust laws.

The Rounds-Smith letter follows a letter sent to Garland by Republican senators and House members organized by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD-At large) urging him to continue an investigation into the meatpackers that was started under the Trump administration.

Recently, the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Farmers Union, R-CALF USA, the United States Cattlemen’s Association and the Livestock Market Association announced that they had met in Phoenix on May 10 and reached a unified position to “demand that the Justice Department” issue a public investigation status report and as warranted, conduct joint Department of Justice and USDA oversight of packer activity moving forward.

The North American Meat Institute, which represents the meatpackers, has defended its members against the charges and maintains that market forces are in play.

When a reporter asked Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) whether she was planning to hold a hearing on the situation, she said that the problem in Congress taking up the issue is that there is still no consensus in the industry on how to address the problems.

In a related situation, Politico Pro recently reported that JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, had suspended its membership in the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association because the group began taking a harder line on issues related to market consolidation.

Broadband bill

House Agriculture Republicans recently introduced the Broadband For Rural America Act, which would provide more than $7 billion in authorizations for USDA broadband connectivity programs.

Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA-15), the House Agriculture Committee ranking member, said in a news release, “The one issue that unites rural members on both sides of the aisle is the need to address the digital divide. This critical infrastructure void has been exacerbated by the challenges faced by rural families and businesses during the pandemic.”

“There are many broadband infrastructure plans, but the House GOP package puts a detailed plan on paper,” Thompson said. “This is also the only proposal that utilizes the expertise of USDA and focuses agencies across the government towards one common goal: connecting all Americans.

“Let’s put aside partisan differences, debate the merits of this legislation, and address this significant infrastructure need.”

In a news release the House Agriculture Committee Republicans said the Broadband For Rural America Act:

• Authorizes $3.7 billion per year for rural broadband programs, including the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program, the Middle Mile Broadband Program, and the Innovative Broadband Advancement Program;

• Targets limited resources so assistance is focused on the most rural and least-connected residents, which are often the most expensive to connect; and

• Promotes borrower accountability and protects taxpayers with new tools to ensure promised services are delivered to rural communities. — Jerry Hagstrom, DTN political correspondent

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