Stevens County Cattleman look toward the future

RaeLynn Ricarte

The Stevens County Cattlemen's Association has signed on to an R-CALF USA plan to bring profitability back to ranchers and ensure a future for the next generation.

“As an affiliate of R-CALF, we are solidly behind this plan and will work to achieve these goals, as they are necessary to our livelihoods and the future of our operations,” said Scott Nielsen, president of the association. “American ranch families are doing a tremendous job of keeping our nation fed while making contributions to the health of rangelands and preserving open spaces. We don't think the U.S. can get by without family ranches and cowboys, so we are working to make sure that there are plenty of them.”

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national nonprofit organization that has become a strong advocacy voice for independent beef producers on marketing and trade issues. Nielsen said R-CALF has risen to prominence in recent years because of its legal and political fights to reform an industry that is dominated by four meat packers through “anti-competitive and unjust practices.”

He said R-CALF, which is solely funded by membership dues and donations, is also trying to change marketing policies that are harmful to U.S. producers. In October, Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF, spoke to local ranchers at the Cattle Producers of Washington annual meeting that was held in Fruitland.

“This can no longer be business as usual or your children will not be able to ranch,” said Bullard.

He described the current marketing system as broken and said there is a limited amount of time to overhaul it before small ranchers are driven out of business.

“You have been left unable to compete with the largest beef consuming market in the world,” said Bullard.

In 2018, he said the U.S realized historic export volumes of beef, yet the profit margin for ranchers remained low. However, the “Big Four” beef packers — Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and National Beef — realized huge profits. Nielsen said the message delivered by Bullard was well understood by ranchers from the area in attendance because they have seen their return on investment dwindle during the past decade from 60 cents out of every dollar spent by a consumer to 35 cents, despite the fact that retail prices have been up the past three years.

“R-CALF respects the independent cattlemen and our way of life,” said Nielsen.

For that reason, he said the association has decided to get behind R-CALF's 2021-2025 plan that highlights changes that must be made to level the marketing playing field for independent producers.

Key points in the plan include:

• Growing demand for U.S. beef with restoration of Country of Origin labeling so consumers can tell the difference between beef born, raised and processed in the U.S. and imports from other countries. In order to do this, R-CALF is seeking to have 100% of the beef sold at retail and 40% of the beef sold to food service labeled to reflect where the animal came from.
The plan also calls for 90% of domestic beef advertisements paid for by Check-Off assessments on every sale of beef to promote production in the U.S., not just beef in general.
Congress repealed country of origin labeling after the World Trade Organization threatened that Canada and Mexico would impose more than $1 billion in tariffs are punishment.

• Restoring fairness to the market means a reduction in the amount of influence that meat processing plants can wield in regard to live cattle prices and better enforcement of existing regulations — the Packers and Stockyards Act – to prevent them from engaging in “deceptive” business practices.

According to Bullard, the Big Four and others use a broad range of coordinated efforts to artificially suppress supply while enjoying the financial returns of strong demand. Their modus operandi, he said, is to make the prospect of selling cattle an “unmanageable nightmare.” They allegedly do this by creating a glut in the number of slaughter-ready cattle to drive down sale prices. This is done by shuttering local plants for weeks until producers are desperate to sell because beef is a perishable commodity. When there is a glut, they reopen and ranchers are forced to accept much lower prices for their animals.

Nielsen says packers also import large volumes of foreign cattle to artificially block market access to U.S. ranchers, among other unfair practices.

• Protecting the freedom of U.S. cattlemen by preserving their right to choose what animal identification devices they want to use without being forced into options that don't work for them, such as electronic ear tags.

R-CALF is legally fighting a mandate by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that radio frequency ear tags be used for all animals that will be sold over state lines. These tags would replace branding and track the animal's history. Ranchers contend the tags are far more costly and have the potential to give away proprietary information. Plus, they set the stage for bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., to sit behind a desk and make decisions about how a rancher has to operate.

“Why should we change what we are doing now?” asks Nielsen. “More regulations will just mean more costs and less production.”

• Removing grazing allotment restrictions that have been imposed throughout the West where the federal government owns huge swaths of land. A series Congressional acts from the 1800s forward prohibited the government from stripping away a rancher’s grazing allotment in national forests and on federally-managed grasslands.

However, R-CALF and other advocacy groups for ranching contend that Washington bureaucrats want ranchers to believe they have no grazing rights of publicly-held lands beyond those granted by permits.

For more information on the 2021 plan, visit