During the first convention (the National Stock Growers Convention) in Denver, Colorado, January 1898, the National Live Stock Growers Association of the United States was founded.
Through three mergers, numerous organizational splits, economic busts, natural disasters, world wars, changing political views and evolving consumer wants, NCBA has persevered as the voice of the American beef industry.
A Rough Beginning
In the 1860s and 70s, cattle ranching in the United States was a crude industry at best. Fence-cuttings, cattle rustling and conflicting claims for land rights were mortal problems for homesteaders and livestock grazers.
A "packer monopoly" kept market information from cattle producers, while railroads, which were quickly springing up, charged exorbitant rates for shipping cattle.
It was clear that cattle producers needed to band together to have strength in combating these issues. Emerging state level organizations were adequate for dealing with cattle thieves and ownership issues, but not for trade and governmental issues. Cattlemen needed to think bigger - on a national level.
After several failed attempts, a national cattle producers organization became a reality in 1898, when two members of the Livestock Committee of the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Trade Board called a National Stock Growers Convention Jan. 25-27, 1898, in Denver, Colo. Charles F. Martin and John W. Springer had a plan to form "an association of associations" which would represent every branch of the livestock industry, from cattle to hogs, to sheep, chickens, goats and horses.
More than 2,000 convention attendees heard three days of discussion on interstate trade, public lands and packer trusts. However, the main order of business at the first convention was the formation of the National Live Stock Association (NLSA) of the United States.
After one year of operation, the infant association was off to a good start. Springer, who was elected the first association president, reported that NLSA had 53 organizational members, represented 5,000 producers with 9 million head of stock and had a combined investment of $300 million. In addition, NLSA initiated two activities that would endure through the coming century - legislative lobbying and industry-wide communication through a national newsletter.
After several early years of growth, the National Live Stock Association and the industry fell on hard times. Prices plummeted while rail charges jumped. Range wars and public lands battles continued to divide members whose support waned. Splinter groups began peeling away from the national association.
In 1901, one such splinter group formed the American Cattle Growers Association whose purpose was to solely represent cattle producers, particularly against sheep growers. Disputes between cattle growers and sheep growers over grazing rights had become so heated that bands of cattlemen often sought to wipe out the sheepmen through intimidation and the eventual clubbing or shooting of sheepherders and their flocks.
Meanwhile, despite the split and formation of the American Cattle Growers Association, the National Live Stock Association still faced strife between remaining members. In 1905, an attempt was made to eliminate railroads from NLSA membership, but to retain the commission men, stockyards and packers as members. Although representing all segments of the industry did not have wide support, a reorganization committee nonetheless defeated the movement and the railroads remained in. This conflict spurned yet another splinter group to peel away from the association to form the American Stock Growers Association.
Frank J. Hagenbarth, NLSA president from 1904-05, persistently worked for harmony between the divided groups. In 1906, his persistence paid off. The National Live Stock Association and the American Stock Growers Association merged into one strong organization - the American National Live Stock Association (ANSLA).
That same year, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's harsh novel about unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants prompted the federal government to pass the first Federal Meat Inspection Act. ANSLA supported the act as it gave beef a better acceptance in the market place, and won a major victory when the federal government agreed to bare the cost of meat inspection.
An Evolving Industry
From 1906 to 1914, ANSLA members addressed issues that would repeatedly press the industry over the next century, such as export and trade issues, consumer rebellion against high food prices, the condition and control of public lands and livestock transportation. Specifically, members were facing the impending outbreak of World War I and feuding with railroad companies over rates, service and availability of cars.
Soon, issues of concern turned to meeting the supply and demand of the war effort, containing the spread of contagious animal diseases, controlling predators and poisonous plants, fighting an increase in livestock commission charges, and keeping retail prices and cattle prices more relative in the market place.
In 1921, the Packers and Stockyards Act was passed to regulate the "Beef Trust" or the "Big Five Packers," who were proven to be engaged in monopoly and anti-trust violations. In 1922, the National Live Stock and Meat Board was officially organized to "build demand by promoting the product" and in 1924, meat grading was introduced into the meat processing system.
Although the livestock industry was slowly becoming more sophisticated, it had no recourse for Mother Nature. The early 30s saw the already drought-stricken Great Plains devastated by the Dust Bowl. The entire nation fell victim to the Great Depression. Banks failed by the thousand, forcing herd liquidation and wiping out one quarter of a million farmers and ranchers.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933 and initiated a number of "New Deal" programs, including the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which was the first attempt by the government to manage agriculture. It paid farmers to reduce acreage and store commodities, as well as established price supports based on a new concept, parity.
The Taylor Grazing Act was another product of the New Deal. It contained a provision for grazing fees and brought some security to ranchers using federal lands by effectively ending homesteading and the open range.
December 7, 1941. D-Day. President Roosevelt called it "A day which shall live in infamy." It was also a day that began yet another economic struggle for the beef industry with price controls, rationing, inflation, the black market, labor shortages, poor transportation and the pledge by ANSLA members to make "necessary sacrifices" to assure an adequate beef supply for the nation and military.
Beef producers would struggle against their "necessary sacrifices" for the next five years - the duration of World War II.
The American National Livestock Association celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1947. The industry was beginning to recover from World War II and producers were glad to be free from price controls and rationing. ANSLA challenged the federal government once again on "non-war issues," such as public lands, tariffs and the control of foot-and-mouth disease.
Four years later, ANSLA members voted to change their name to the American National Cattlemen’s Association (ANCA). That same year, the Korean War exploded and for the third time in approximately 40 years, the industry faced problems of supply and demand, the black market and price controls. These factors, coupled with low prices and drought in the Great Plains lead to the “Great Cattle Bust of 1953.” Cattlemen accepted government aid without the customary battles.
Beef producers knew they could not rely on government aid – nor did they want to. Jay Taylor, ANCA president from 1954-55, was an advocate of self-help through beef promotion. Taylor initiated the National Beef Council and led the charge to pass a nationally legislated checkoff.
Producer's Develop Self-Help Program
Seven checkoff bills failed in Congress. All were opposed by the National Live Stock and Meat Board and the American Farm Bureau Federation, both of which favored generic red meat promotion.
The industry was at odds. The National Beef Council relied on voluntary contributions, while the Meat Board continued to collect from producers through markets. By 1956, 17 state beef councils had formed in support of the National Beef Council. However, emotional and economic strain was too great and in 1963 the groups compromised and formed the Beef Industry Council (BIC) of the National Live Stock and Meat Board. The BIC took the lead for national beef promotion.
For the nation and the beef industry, the 60s were evolving years. There were civil rights marches, the Vietnam War, riots and protests of every kind – including boycotts and protests against high food prices. As the 60s faded into the 70s, consumers' voices became louder and they began to play a bigger role in the beef industry and its direction.
President Nixon also played a big role in beef industry economics in the early 70s. He imposed the first peace-time wage and price controls in U.S. history. His 1973 price freeze on beef inadvertently caused "The Wreck" - a severe crash in the cattle market and dramatic herd reduction.
ANCA held, however, that the only way for the industry to get out of "The Wreck" was to sell more beef. Thus came several new attempts to pass a national uniform checkoff for cattle. A beef checkoff program was finally passed on its third attempt, more than 10 years later, in 1986.
The second merger for the national association occurred primarily because -- in the words of W.D. Farr, ANCA president in 1970 - "I had observed in the livestock industry a tendency to form a new organization for each new problem or issue...all financed separately but all financed by cattlemen." The American National Cattlemen's Association and the National Livestock Feeders Association consolidated into one strong national organization in 1977, the National Cattlemen's Association (NCA).
National Cattlemen's Association
Throughout its existence, the National Cattlemen's Association had expressed concern about the federal budget and passed numerous resolutions calling for less government spending. By 1978 the value of the dollar was approximately half of what it had been in 1968. Inflation rates were out of control. Interest rates were rising and agricultural credit was almost non-existent. Inflated land prices and deflated grain prices caused many American families to lose their farms and ranches.
Surviving producers began to take stock of their association and their industry in the 80s. NCA members worked to "assign value" to the accomplishments of the association and build membership. Industry leaders commissioned management studies and participated on task forces to define the strengths and weaknesses of the industry. They drew a "road map for the future," which set the course for NCA initiatives over the next decade and laid the groundwork for what would become the association's third merger.
NCA members-of-the-day faced issues like packer concentration, frustration over the futures market and the 1985 Farm Bill's dairy herd buy-out.
In the 90s, NCA programs focused primarily on the environment, food safety and animal welfare. Initiatives were quickly gaining sophistication and consumer-direction, yet there was still concern over beef's declining market share.
The national $1 per head beef checkoff program went into effect on Oct. 1, 1986, collecting an average of $80 million per year for the promotion and marketing of beef. NCA and the Beef Industry Council of the National Live Stock and Meat Board contracted with the checkoff's governing body - the Beef Promotion and Research Board - to conduct promotion, research, producer communication, industry and consumer information programs on behalf of the industry.
An Industry-Wide Long Range Planning Task Force was formed in the early 90s to once again assess the strengths and weaknesses of the industry and set a course for a successful future. After months of review, the task force concluded that to truly be an efficient, effective, national organization, the various existing beef organizations must become one. To be a viable competitor in the battle for market share, the beef industry must reinvent itself.
Following nearly three years of discussion, planning and compromise, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) was born. In January of 1996, the Beef Industry Council of the Meat Board and the National Cattlemen's Association were merged into one unified organization representing all segments of the beef industry. In addition, joint operating agreements were signed between NCBA and its primary industry partners - the Beef Promotion and Research Board, the American National CattleWomen and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
"We've come a long way in one hundred years and yet we still face many challenges," said Max Deets, NCBA president. "Hopefully, as an industry and as an association, we will learn from our past triumphs and failures and use that information to forge a dynamic and profitable beef industry of the Twenty-First Century."