Senate ag committee holds hearing on livestock issues

Senate ag committee holds hearing on livestock issues

It was the first hearing on livestock held in the committee in five years.

Livestock producers testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Thursday, May 26.

The hearing, “A Review of the U.S. Livestock and Poultry Sectors: Marketplace Opportunities and Challenges,” was the first livestock and poultry hearing in the committee in five years.

The hearing, “A Review of the U.S. Livestock and Poultry Sectors: Marketplace Opportunities and Challenges,” was the first livestock and poultry hearing in the committee in five years. (Photo: Fuse/Thinkstock)

“Today’s livestock and poultry producers are operating in a highly cyclical marketplace,” said committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, in his opening statement. “One year they may receive record prices for their animals, and then the next see a dramatic drop in value, like we have seen recently in the beef sector. Other events, like the diseases that have ravaged the egg, pork and turkey sectors, can leave producers with little to no income for months on end.”

Many topics were discussed during the hearing. Here’s a look at five:

1. TPP

The beef industry will benefit from passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,  testified Tracy Brunner, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a cattle rancher and feeder from the Flint Hills area of Kansas. Japan, a member of the agreement, has become the leading U.S. beef export market even with a 38.5% tariff on U.S. beef.

2. Price.

Cattle prices set record highs last year, but are heading down, Brunner said. Cattle producers need risk management tools that work to better manage the ups and downs of the cattle market.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked about the percentage of cattle traded on the ash market. He put the number at 21%, saying it’s dropped 30% since 2005.

That’s a thin market to establish the price, said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

“We must come to consensus on a more competitive, and fair, means by which weekly cash price on live fed cattle are determined,” said Joe Goggins, vice president of Vermilion Ranch Co., on behalf of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “Transparency and competition must be achieved at the fed cattle level and it must be addressed.”

3. Regulation

“We continue to be hit with over burdensome regulations, which hamper our abiity to be as efficient as possible,” Brunner said. “One such over burdensome regulation is the Endangered Species Act.”

Goggins said the ESA must be revised.

“Increased regulation is no longer the answer,” he said, “producer-driven partnerships and producer-inspired solutions result in the best outcomes for the land and industry.”

Another regulation of concern is the Waters of the U.S. rule.

“As a livestock producer, I can tell you that the rule has the potential to impact every aspect of my operation and others like it by regulating every tributary, stream, pond and dry streambed on my land,” Brunner said.

“The success of any regulation is dependent on the information, facts and stakeholder knowledge backing it; the Waters of the U.S. rule is a prime example of this disconnect,” Goggins said.

4. Avian influenza

Minnesota’s turkey industry is back close to 100% production, but it took nearly a year to recover from the 2015 avian influenza outbreak, said John Zimmerman, a Minnesota turkey grower who is also a board member of the National Turkey Federation.

The most important lesson learned was that action must be immediate.

“No matter how good the intentions are at the state and federal level, industry must be given clear permission to act within minutes, not hours or days, to protect other nearby farms from becoming infected,” he said.

5. Alternative fuels            

The livestock, poultry and dairy industries have been affected by demand for ethanol and biodiesel, said Ron Truex, president and general manager of Creighton Brothers, LLC, in Warsaw, Indiana. That demand has raised the cost of feed, a major cost for livestock producers.

“We ask Congress to help the animal agriculture sector through research to commercialize ethanol production from cellulose and we believe incentives for alternate fuel production should be more equitable,” Truex said.

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