In years past, most of agriculture was on the same page. Packers, processors, feedlots, cow-calf producers, corn growers, and even the competing protein products, were mostly on the same side of the fence when it came to the farm bill. In fact, there was almost an unofficial alliance among all these parties to cooperate in acquiring a workable farm bill, with the emphasis on reducing the impact of non-ag interests.
That's surely not the case in this year's farm bill, as the various segments within the beef industry, as well as the competing proteins, and farmers, are finding themselves in decidedly different "camps" when it comes to the upcoming farm bill.
With the various ag groups in competition this time around, non-ag interest groups see a tremendous opportunity to influence the outcome of the new farm bill. The bottom line is there are more special-interest groups involved in the process, and vying for farm-bill favors, than ever before.
A few of the most prominent items are a national livestock ID program, country-of-origin labeling (COOL), competition issues, animal welfare and ethanol.
The American Meat Institute (AMI) has been very active in confronting the populist claims that have gained support within the meat industry. Last week, AMI issued the requirements that its packer members plan to institute to market cattle in the fall of 2008 when mandatory COOL is scheduled for implementation. (See "AMI, FMI Make Waves With COOL Preparations" in last week's issue of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly.) The supporters of mandatory COOL are screaming bloody murder over these announced requirements.
What AMI is doing is moving quickly to respond to the flood of populist agenda items that, while they aren't new, are expected to get more attention than they did in the last farm bill due to the change in political power that's since occurred within the Washington Beltway. AMI has begun what appears to be a well-thought campaign to address the packer ownership and marketing arrangement restriction proposals, comparing the beef industry to the wine industry (not letting winemakers grow grapes, for instance), etc.
The bottom line is that U.S. agriculture seems to be at a major disadvantage as it focuses on all the particulars of various initiatives and their short-term impacts, while the other interests are more focused on long-term agendas.