Cattle ranchers hear concerns

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

If beef consumption is rising around America and the rest of the world, why are American cattle growers making less money in the market? It’s a question cattle growers wish they didn’t have to ask, and a national organization tried to answer at an assembly Friday night.

The Tucumcari Convention Center was host to about 100 audience members, mostly ranchers, and representatives from R-CALF USA.

Stationed out of Billings, Mont., The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America boasts 18,000 members and represents only cow/calf producers, backgrounders and independent stockers and feeders.

“We emphasize issues that affect the economic viability of cattle producers,” said John West, a field coordinator for the organization.

Through R-CALF President Chuck Kiker, the group spent Friday night stressing to New Mexico cattle growers what it saw as dangers in unbalanced free trade agreements, national animal identification programs and country of origin labeling laws, or COOLs.

Cochran said those outside the cattle industry have legitimate interests to protect in making a profit. Those interests include ensuring unrestricted access to cattle and a standard by which all suppliers would follow.

Cochran said he believes beef grown in the United States is the highest quality in the world, and any harmonization of standards would only help foreign cattle growers. The point of R-CALF, Cochran said, was to represent cattle producers and make sure they receive and keep a reasonable share of the beef market.

Cochran said the United States is competitive in the market, but unbalanced trade agreements have hurt U.S. producers. Cochran said a recent agreement was made between Japan and the U.S. in which Japan only accepts cattle younger than 21 months. In return, Cochran said the U.S. accepts cattle from Japan at any age.

“We’re sitting here selling ourselves out,” Cochran said. “We’re giving up the best market in the world.”

Cochran said another issue that could affect cattle growers is the possibility of a national animal identification program. The program would require cattle growers to tag each animal so it could be traced back to its home.

Cochran said he could see many health concerns that make a national identification program sound like a good idea, but felt a mandatory program would give cattle growers another program to pay for, without reaping any benefits.

Sam Britt, who ranches west of Clayton, said because New Mexico is a branding state, it already has an adequate tracking system in place.

“We’ve got a great identification program in New Mexico,” Britt said. “It’s nothing but more control for (the federal government and others).”