What has the National Cattlemen's Beef Association done for me lately?” We've all asked that question. It would be better answered, though, if more of us could spend a few days with NCBA in Washington, D.C.

I try to pay a visit to Washington and NCBA a couple of times each year, and I never fail to come away with some insight. But, with all the problems facing our industry, this last trip was particularly telling.

With the wolf at the door, it's easy to demand that outfits like NCBA help with our individual problems. The harder questions, though, seldom get asked:

  • Where and how do our personal interests parallel the greater, long-term good?

  • Can our individual concerns be woven into collective agreement over the policies guiding the our industry?

The cattle industry today is becoming mired in a civil war. Conventional wisdom says it's because we lack leadership. I'm not so sure about that. Could it be that we're asking for micromanagement and forgetting about the underpinnings?

The lesson is that until you've seen it in action, it's difficult to comprehend the political magnitude of, arguably, the most complex and diverse industry in America.

Pay a visit to Washington, D.C., and you'll find NCBA staffers follow association policy where there is policy and consult closely with members where there isn't. Whether it's battling the latest brush fire or a slogging through long-standing policy issues, you do have people looking after the foundation of the cattle business. Here are some examples:

  • The West Coast port lockout — Chief economist Chuck Lambert mobilized ag coalition partners to communicate the impacts of this dispute to Congress and the White House.

  • Drought relief programs — When the drought programs were hastily implemented in October, NCBA members and state affiliates questioned USDA's restrictive details. Bryan Dierlam, NCBA director of legislative affairs, worked with USDA to ensure they were implemented as quickly and as equitably as possible.

  • Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) guidelines — Several staff members are addressing the complexities surrounding this issue and working through their NCBA committees and with USDA to develop regulations for mandatory COOL before it goes into effect.

  • Tax issues — NCBA has continued to push for complete and permanent repeal of the death tax. NCBA is working to deal with capital gains on drought-induced sales of cattle — as well as a complete reform of the tax code.

  • Beef and food safety — NCBA's associate director of food policy, Leah Wilkinson, is working with agency officials to advance research to reduce food pathogens. Additional interventions for E. coli still need approval — such as feed additives and animal and carcass washes.

  • Animal health — Gary Weber, executive director of regulatory affairs, represents cattlemen on key animal health issues. NCBA continues to chart the course for disease exclusion, control and eradication. Efforts include emergency response, bioterrorism planning and animal identification.

  • Trade policy — NCBA has an on-going dialog with USDA Secretary Ann Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, providing advice on negotiating objectives and bargaining positions before entering into trade agreements.

  • Conservation and environment — The director of environmental issues, Myra Hyde, is developing material that will help producers learn how to participate in farm bill conservation programs.

    Faith Burns, associate director of environmental issues, communicates NCBA policy on clean water, clean air and wetlands issues with lawmakers and administration officials. She's been actively fighting for producers over confined animal feeding operation and animal feeding operation (CAFO/AFO) regulations.

  • Political action committee (PAC) — Funded by donations beyond dues money, the NCBA PAC identifies and supports campaign activities of industry-friendly national political candidates. PAC activities and programs allow cattlemen access to legislators and congressional committee staff.

  • Federal lands — NCBA and the Public Lands Council work with Congress and federal land management agencies to develop Endangered Species Act reform and grazing policy reform. NCBA is currently involved in legal action seeking relief from previous regulatory decisions that will restore the livestock industry as a managing partner on federal rangelands.

It certainly appears that each of these issues, in some way, swirls around everyone in the cattle industry. But each person has to take his or her own look at the direction and relevance of today's issues and then ask, “Has NCBA done anything for us lately?”