In May, U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas (RWY) took a courageous step in defense of U.S. cattle producers. He asked Congress to convene immediate investigative hearings into repeated, inexplicable collapses of the cattle market in recent months.

A few weeks later, 28 local, state, regional and national cattlemen's and industry organizations co-signed a joint letter to key congressmen requesting the same. I am one of the people who helped organize the effort because our cattle pricing system is broken.

During the same week our letter of request was delivered to the chairmen of key Senate committees, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) delivered its own letter to the U.S Congress. NCBA asked Congress for “research that would get to the bottom of volatile markets and low prices for cattle producers.”

It's obvious NCBA doesn't get it and isn't going to. I don't need a consortium of business schools to tell me what's wrong with the cattle market I've been part of all of my life.

This is another time-buying tactic by an outfit that no longer is a cattlemen's organization but a front for the packing and retailing segments. While the NCBA-requested study is being conducted for who knows how long, independent cattlemen will suffer at the hands of the packers and retailers reaping record profits.

I've been an NCBA dues-paying member for 50 years. I've kept my NCBA dues current so that I can't be “blamed” for not being part of NCBA's “solution-oriented process.”

NCBA continues to lose membership. Its CEO, Terry Stokes, related that message to Colorado cattlemen at their recent convention. The mystery is why NCBA leadership refuses to understand the exodus, because out here in the country, we know why we no longer want to be part of NCBA.

Years ago, our hard-earned dollars drove the organization. Today, profit-reaping packers and retailers have bought and paid for NCBA and its representation. We must work to strip NCBA of the reputation in Washington, D.C., that we built so many years ago.

I want NCBA president Wythe Willey and incoming president Eric Davis to clearly know that NCBA is in serious danger of losing the support of an entire bastion of “old-timers” in their membership, who have kept their dues current for no other reason than traction. In years past, I took great pride in being part of the old National Cattlemen's Association and was actively involved both in time and financial support. No more.

I hope every rancher who believes as I do will call their congressional delegations and tell them NCBA no longer speaks for them. Tell your local and state cattlemen's groups that any affiliation with NCBA is a complete waste of good money that can be spent more effectively elsewhere.
Tom F. Spencer
Pueblo, CO

Producer Joe Tugaw, a long-time NCBA member, responds:

Throughout his career, Tom Spencer has played a key and impressive role in the workings of the cattle industry. He's given much of his time, energy and resources to make this industry better for those who make their livings in it. That's why his comments about the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) are disturbing.

He says NCBA no longer represents the interests of the grass-roots cattle producer and has fallen in line with packers and retailers in its policy decisions. The logical question that arises from this claim is: How many grass-roots producers are making these decisions on NCBA's board, and how many packers are represented?

  • About 62% (84 members) of NCBA's board are cow-calf operators. They're appointed by their state cattle organizations. These are grass-roots cattle producers.

  • About 30% (42 members) of the board are feedlot operators and also represent their state cattle organizations. These are grass-roots producers.

  • Fewer than 2% — just two individuals — have votes as representatives of the packing industry. How can two people control the actions of a board made up of 138 people who are elected primarily by their state organizations?

Rather than presenting his complaints in the media, we prefer Tom demonstrate his disagreements by using his influence to bring together cow-calf operators on the board — who represent a clear and overwhelming majority — to institute the policies he wants. He could go even further by encouraging more cow-calf operators to become active, thereby securing an even greater majority in the democratic proceedings of the organization.

The cattle industry is going through enormous changes and tough times. As the industry's largest organization, NCBA is a prime target for people unhappy with market conditions. But it's important to remember that the organization is a collection of grass-roots producers from the state affiliates and breed and industry organizations that constitute the membership.

NCBA has survived for more than 100 years because of its ability to see the big picture — because of its tenacity to focus on tough issues for as long as it takes. Sometimes issues need to be tackled from the ground up.

To effectively fix the cattle pricing system, we must be willing to look at all meat and poultry pricing. I stand behind our president Wythe Willey and his letter asking Congress for the money already earmarked for this process.

I agree action needs to be taken quickly. That's why NCBA is also working proactively with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on short-term solutions for the wreck our market is in.
Joe Tugaw
Twin Falls, ID

Brazil's expensive progress

I eagerly read Clint Peck's fine and accurate article on Brazilian beef production (June and July issues). As a cow-calf, stocker and fattening operator in Brazil's Mato Grosso state for nine years, I can attest to the potential of the beef business here.

Cheap land, a great growing season and cheap labor spell profit. But don't be fooled by the fact that Brazil is operating at half of its production capacity and that they could “double production without having to tear down another tree.”

The numbers are true, but it is also true that the authorities here are masters at propaganda. They know just the right things to say to convince foreigners just how good the Brazilian landowners are behaving.

There are hundreds of thousands of hectares of degraded lands that could be put back into production. But there are also millions of acres of forests to be felled to achieve the same ends but at a much cheaper cost.

Crunch the numbers and you will see that economics drive policy, and that is why the Amazon forest will be torn down. Brazil offers some of the world's cheapest forage costs, but there is a reason for that.
John Carter
Mato Grosso, Brazil

Great Coverage

I really enjoyed the article on Brazil. I'd like to learn more and travel there someday. Thanks for the article!
Tracy Brunner
Cow Camp Feed Yard
Ramona, KS

BRD Is Everybody's Problem

I'm glad to learn that shipping fever (BRD) is finally getting some attention from ranchers (“Ship Shape,” July BEEF page 6). As a cattle feeder — almost an ex-cattle feeder — BRD was and still is by far our greatest health problem, far greater than all other health problems combined. The predominate attitude of ranchers and cowherd owners is still, “BRD is the cattle feeders problem, not ours. Feeders were healthy when we loaded them.”

By the time we, the feeders, receive them, it's mostly too little and too late. If I had nothing else to do, didn't have to feed, harvest, etc. and had a couple helpers, I could keep BRD fairly well under control.

Employees do not like Sunday and holiday work. So often, that's when a batch of BRD appears. By Monday, it's too late. By tagging the sick, I've found that those which apparently recover are often the ones who die suddenly before they're market ready.
Jim Smith
smithsje@juno.com

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