In "Legislating The Market" (December, page 34), I assume Ken Bull was able to maintain a straight face when he said taking away captive supplies takes alternatives from producers. Indeed it does, what a loss.

I suppose that line of reasoning was used by the robber barons in the 19th century with respect to "yellow dog contracts." The outlawing of those took away the right of a working man to employ himself under conditions that made him a wageslave.

Maybe that same logic was used by those who were opposed to the concept of a minimum wage. I suppose that took away from the working person the alternative of working for a wage that ensured his peonage! If nothing else Bull was sure spreading a lot of bull, pun intended.

If the situation were not so serious with its effects on all of us in the industry, it would be simply funny. I'm an advocate of free market economics. However, when there is a serious threat posed to the functioning of the market to the extent that economic equity is jeopardized, then there is a need for legislation to restore a fair field. Ken Martin cowboy54_65082@hotmail.com

Checkoff Is Winning The War Hats off to Clint Peck for finally putting in writing what many of us have known for quite some time ("Commentary," November, page 8.)

The Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) is nothing more than a radical environmental organization in ranchers' clothing. Why else would they seek to tear down the beef checkoff - the one bright spot that has been working for every one of us in the beef industry for more than 10 years?

While NPRC and others have been creating conflicts and advocating breaking the law as a way of addressing federal programs with which they disagree, the beef checkoff has been working to increase demand for our product. And isn't it interesting they would be so closely allied with the LMA, which is leading the fight against the beef checkoff.

While NPRC has been working to ensure the beef industry remains in the dark ages, the beef checkoff has moved forward to fight misconceptions that affect demand for our product - misconceptions about beef fitting into a healthy diet, beef's nutritional value and beef's disease-fighting attributes. The checkoff has also addressed convenience issues that have hindered demand in the past.

We're winning the war, but it isn't over yet, and NPRC and other counter-productive groups certainly aren't helping us stay in business. George Hammond, Sr. Hardin, MT

Three Points To Make As an order buyer/stocker operator, I feel we absolutely must keep the checkoff. My wife is a dietitian and every food conference and association trade show we attend has a checkoff booth. Who else is going to take the facts of beef in a healthy diet to health professionals?

Secondly, the livestock auction market is still the center of livestock marketing and a place where there is still true price discovery.

Finally, how pitiful that we squabble among ourselves when we have so many enemies taking shots at our livelihood. Mike Graves Nashville, AR

The Urban/Rural Split Regarding the November editorial on the Electoral College: I've been amazed at the number of people who think the whole mess could be solved by just going with the popular vote. It must be ignorance of the election process because the people I know would not want the rural vote to be useless.

Rural America had better recognize the equalization of the Electoral College, even though in 2000-2001 it was/will be the source for many late night TV jokes. The founding fathers would be proud of how their system has held up after all these years.

Voting problems in Florida are a separate issue from the Electoral College and should not be lumped together.

The news media is beginning to catch on to this rural/urban split.

Here's some other information passed through e-mails immediately following election day: Counties won by Gore - 677; Counties won by Bush - 2,434

Population of counties won by Gore - 127 million; Population of counties won by Bush - 143 million.

Square miles of country won by Gore - 580,000;

Square miles of country won by Bush - 2,427,000.

Professor Joseph Olson of the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, MN, produced some other interesting statistics. He looked up the crime statistics for all of these counties and came up with this:

- Average murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by Gore - 13.2.

- Average murder per 100,000 residents in counties won by Bush - 2.1. James Cochrann Lumberton, NC

Your Math Looks Fuzzy Regarding your December editorial on the Electoral College (page 3), it seems to me that if you have 800,000 South Dakota voters and three electoral votes that would be 266,666 people/electoral vote and not 105,000. California with 10 million voters and 54 electoral votes would make 185,185 people/electoral vote. How could South Dakota be better off keeping the electoral voting standards? Brad Lund jolund@prairie.lakes.com

Editor's Note: You're correct and I apologize for the typo. The 800,000 figure (actually the total state population of South Dakota) is incorrect, but the math and point made in the editorial are valid.

In actuality, South Dakota sent 315,000 voters to the polls in November. Divided by its three electoral votes, each South Dakota electoral vote represents 105,000 voters. That's a significant advantage over California, where 10 million voters decided the disposition of 54 votes (185,000 per electoral vote).

We Are Environmentalists Your December "Editor's Roundup" (page 3) was on target. The rural/urban split also applies to an issue that comes later in your piece when you allude to a friend's observation that Bush supporters in the West don't care about the environment. As you point out, we do, but differently.

Obviously, farmers and ranchers are acutely concerned about the long-term well-being of their land. We also, however, must compromise to stay in business, particularly in an area where the margin of profit is typically pretty low.

Meanwhile, urbanites hear and believe partial truths about what goes on out here in the country. They often lean toward the radical conclusion that just letting nature take over entirely would be the best thing for the environment. As a result, urban environmentalists often view farmers as "the enemy" and vice versa.

The structural problem I see is that city dwellers have little knowledge of what goes on out in the country. As beef production is the most environmentally friendly economic use of the land, I think we should take a leading role in trying to inform city dwellers of the fact that properly conducted agriculture is good for the land and for wildlife.

On the political level, we also need to make every effort to see that those affected by environmental laws (often farmers and ranchers) are adequately represented where the decisions are made. Those who know the realities of what goes on in the country must be present if environmental programs are to make any sense at all in terms of agricultural realities. Marshall Farrier mfranch@intellex.com

An Electoral Idea I agree with the point of your December "Editor's Roundup" (page 3) that we need the Electoral College. I also believe that the system could be improved if each state would develop a way to divide its electoral votes when the race is close like in Florida. I believe Nebraska does it by region. Jeff Klinge jefkling@netins.net

A Call For County Votes I agree with your December "Editor's Roundup" (page 3), but I would support some changes in the Electoral College if they could be made in a sensible manner.

In my home state of Delaware, we have only three counties and three electoral votes. The results of the 2000 election gave all three of Delaware's votes to Al Gore due to the higher population in the northern county of New Castle.

The two lower population counties, one of which I reside in, (Kent) and Sussex, voted strongly for Bush. Our votes, however, were overruled by New Castle's greater population, the majority of which went for Gore.

Many of us would like to see Maryland's three electoral votes split among the three counties. Had that been the case in November, Bush would have received two of the three Delaware votes. Jim Dunn dunn@dmv.com

A Great Disservice As the organization representing California's livestock auction markets, we resent your comments regarding LMA in your November editorial "Turkeys 2000."

The auction industry is far from "irrelevant" in California. Most county cattlemen's organizations derive most of their annual funding from special auction programs. In addition, auction market owners are active at the county and state association level, serving in elected positions and helping to recruit membership.

Auction owners and auctioneers also donate time and expertise at junior livestock auctions in California, and collect the majority of the money that Californians ante up for the beef checkoff.

With the help of LMA, auction markets have also been leaders in quality assurance training programs. More importantly, auction markets are the only place where value-based marketing is really occurring in the cattle business in this country. Prices for stockers, feeders and slaughter cows are established in a fair and open manner through competition.

Your article shows you resent LMA's actions to call for a referendum on the checkoff. You state, "Finding itself becoming irrelevant, LMA fashioned a referendum campaign to kill the beef checkoff." LMA has never told people how to vote on the beef referendum, just if they would like to vote.

When the LMA asked USDA Secretary Glickman to demand an immediate referendum, it wasn't because LMA was afraid of the signatures on their petitions. It's because LMA has no faith in USDA's ability to handle such a task.

Even Secretary Glickman and USDA have acknowledged their process to validate signatures in the pork referendum was faulty. Further, the General Accounting Office reported that the USDA "has not yet developed and implemented improvements to ensure the successful validation of future petitions."

The California Livestock Auction Markets Association invites you to visit with California producers. Ask them if they feel that the livestock auction industry and the LMA are "irrelevant" or deserving of being called "turkeys." Max Olvera and Lee Pitts California Livestock Auction Markets Association

We'll Miss Heather Please convey to Heather Smith Thomas my sadness that she will no longer write a column for your magazine ("Editor's Roundup," January, page 4).

My family farm in Georgia includes a cow/calf herd. I and my family could relate to her difficulties and triumphs. Her article was the first page I turned to in BEEF. It was a pleasure to share some of their life in the Lehmi Mountains. May God smile upon them. Charles Vinson ca-vinson@email.msn.com