March 2020 will go down in history as one of our nation’s most challenging months ever - and that certainly holds true for our beef-producing community as well.
The coronavirus and the worldwide economic shock that it has triggered will be with us for a long time to come. But we will get through this challenge just as we have gotten through many others in our past — by pulling together, working together, and moving forward together.
Together: it seems to be the most appropriate word for these times. We truly are all in this together. No fancy business title, no amount of money, no geographic feature or political border can fully shield any of us from the risk of illness, or from the economic challenges in the near or long term. We really do all face this together.
And that’s why we have to tackle this challenge together. As a nation and as an industry, we cannot afford to let our parochial, partisan, or ideological differences get in the way of our success in the face of this challenge.
Americans are depending on us to work together as an industry to keep the supply chain moving and to deliver nutritious protein to their local grocery shelves — and to do that we all need to work together. There is no other way.
We need every link of our supply chain to stay focused on doing everything we can to keep our entire industry viable so we can continue to feed and nourish the American people. Now is not the time for division, for settling old scores, or for advancing narrow interests. There’s just too much at stake right now.
That’s why as soon as this crisis hit, NCBA sent a letter to the North American Meat Institute and the four major beef packing companies urging them to pay prices that reflect current consumer demand and pricing, rather than using depressed and volatile futures to guide their pricing of fed cattle. Consumer retail demand is strong, beef prices are good at the retail level, and the prices being paid for live cattle need to reflect that reality. We also asked NAMI and the four packers to help keep cattle moving in the country by ensuring they are to doing everything in their power to keep their employees healthy and their plants operational, because we too rely on those workers to deliver our perishable product to consumers.
Of course, no amount of intra-industry cooperation will get us through this crisis if Washington stands between us and feeding America. So, again, as soon as this crisis hit, NCBA’s team in DC reached out to their contacts on Capitol Hill and in the Administration to make sure everyone knew exactly what steps the federal government needed to take to ensure that our supply chain keeps moving and beef keeps getting to consumers.
On March 17, NCBA sent a letter to the Trump Administration outlining some of those steps:
* USDA should give APHIS, FSIS, and AMS employees appropriate flexibility to maximize plant capacity and shift time to avoid any disruptions to processing facilities;
* USDA should give producers and increased access to low- and zero-interest loans in order to remain viable;
* The Department of Transportation (DOT) should waive Hours of Service regulations for livestock haulers, which it did the day after receiving NCBA’s letter;
* The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) should keep a close eye on the cattle markets to ensure that no one tries to use the uncertainty of the live cattle market to manipulate or illegally take advantage of the situation;
* BLM and USFS employees should be provided flexibility to issue or renew grazing permits should working hours or locations be affected by agency teleworking policy.
Finally, NCBA is responding to this crisis as the natural disaster that it is. Our team in Washington has been hard at work with our state affiliates and Capitol Hill to ensure that our producers throughout the country receive the financial assistance they critically need via the multiple federal coronavirus stimulus packages currently working their way through Congress. As cattlemen and women, we pride ourselves on our independence from most federal programs – but extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures, and these times certainly meet that description.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that no business community in American history has faced — and successfully risen up to — more challenges than the ag community has, and cattle producers have been in the thick of it every single time.
We raise cattle in swamps, on sandhills, and in deserts, and we turn otherwise useless forage into the most nutritious and delicious protein in the world - and we do it by working together as a multi-faceted, sometimes dysfunctional, but ultimately successful and sustainable family. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, especially this time, because there’s just so much at stake.
Marty Smith is President of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and a rancher and an attorney from Wacahoota, Fla.