Critics on one side are complaining that the farm bill is simply looking like more of the same. They argue that farm income is at record levels, yet the farm-subsidy system has largely been left untouched. We're missing a great opportunity to institute substantive reform to the farm bill, they say.
There's also a side arguing that the industry hasn't received enough protection from competition. R-CALF Region II director Randy Stevenson penned an editorial this week asking the question -- "Will there be open, accessible and competitive markets without government oversight?"
Let's set aside the obvious fact that our industry's market system is already one of the most highly regulated of any in the U.S. Perhaps the question should be: "Can we ever have a competitive market with excessive government oversight?"
I admit I've never met a producer, or an average citizen for that matter, who doesn't recoil at words like "large meatpacker control." And, admittedly, the issues of market transparency, price discovery and even captive supplies aren't without some merit.
Still, the solutions being proposed are simply irresponsible. In order to protect an industry from a possible future negative income at some point down the road, these folks are proposing to strip producers of their rights to market their product in their chosen manner. Futures contracts, selling on grids, participating in alliances, branded programs and the like are all deemed unacceptable because such cattle aren't priced in the manner acceptable to those who prefer a commodity system over a value-based system.
Still, at some point, someone besides the U.S. Justice Department, USDA, the courts and the like need to call some of this rhetoric exactly what it is. We in the media abdicate our responsibility toward the truth when we merely print such letters without a response.
The vast majority of producers understand that the improving economic dynamics of this industry are due to improved beef demand, which was created by improving the quality and consistency of our product, as well as our competitiveness relative to the other protein sources. They understand that the branded revolution, grid marketing, the various alliances and the like have enabled producers to increase efficiencies, minimize price risk and improve the eating experience of consumers.
Someone needs to stand up and say that competition isn't ensuring that everyone receives the exact same price for their product. It's having the freedom as independent cattlemen to make our own choices in pursuing the goal of providing a better eating experience for our customers.
When someone says they can't compete because they don't have access to the market in an open, fair, competitive and transparent manner, it's code for legislating away the changes that the marketplace has driven over the last 20 years. We should stand up and challenge those assertions.
There used to be a time when government oversight and intervention were seen as conditions to avoid. There was a time when capitalism and competition were seen as superior to socialism and protection. But times seem to be changing. (see "Peddling Fear Has Always Been Easier Than Selling Hope.")