The cattle industry has always prided itself on its peripheral position in past farm-bill debates. But this year, with a shrinking ag budget and seemingly more divergent goals and demands than ever, the industry must be engaged.

The dynamics of the upcoming debate will be especially intriguing, what with issues such as ethanol pitting traditional allies against each other. In the long run, however, the ethanol issue will be a minor one. The momentum relative to ethanol is such that any move to return ethanol to a market-driven basis will take years to resolve.

The reality is that U.S. farm policy, despite the fact farm income has been improving, is terribly in need of repair. In reality, the farm bill has always had less to do with ag production than food stamps, school lunches and environmental interests. And such issues keep gaining stature with each succeeding farm bill, as rural influence declines and urban influence grows.

The book (yes, it is a book) on administration farm proposals is already circulating, and the farm bill is a long ways away from resolution. But it's no longer feasible for the cattle industry to have merely a passing interest in its outcome.

-- Troy Marshall