Friday, September 29, 2023

Senators Release Updated Cattle Market Reform Bill

by Colter Brown

U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today released an updated version of their legislation, the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act. The senators first introduced the bill in November.

The updated bill comes after hours of deliberation with leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee and weeks of technical feedback from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Grassley, Tester and Fischer first proposed similar legislation, originally in two separate bills,  in the summer of 2020 after cattle markets crashed because COVID-19 had shut down packer processing, yet boxed beef prices soared.

The updated bill would:

  • Require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish 5-7 regions encompassing the entire continental U.S. and then establish minimum levels of fed cattle purchases made through approved pricing mechanisms. Approved pricing mechanisms are fed cattle purchases made through negotiated cash, negotiated grid, at a stockyard, and through trading systems that multiple buyers and sellers regularly can make and accept bids. These pricing mechanisms will ensure robust price discovery and are transparent.

  • Establish a maximum penalty for covered packers of $90,000 for mandatory minimum violations. Covered packers are defined as those packers that during the immediately preceding five years have slaughtered five percent or more of the number of fed cattle nationally. 

  • The bill also includes provisions to create a publicly available library of marketing contracts, mandating box beef reporting to ensure transparency, expediting the reporting of cattle carcass weights, and requiring a packer to report the number of cattle scheduled to be delivered for slaughter each day for the next 14 days. The contract library would be permanently authorized and specify key details about the contents that must be included in the library like the duration of the contract and provisions in the contract that may impact price such as schedules, premiums and discounts, and transportation arrangements.

The sticking point over the bill remains a conflict about mandating levels of cash trade. The American Farm Bureau Federation voted in January to oppose government mandates that would require packers to purchase a percentage of live cattle via cash bids. AFBF was divided among its own membership regionally when the group’s delegates voted on the policy change at its annual meeting.

“Our family farmers and ranchers have told us about the need for both robust price discovery and transparency in the cattle markets. The updates to our legislation incorporate a variety of stakeholder feedback to achieve our goal of ensuring more fairness in cattle markets. It’s encouraging to see our bill gain momentum and I am hopeful we will have a hearing on this important legislation in the Senate Agriculture Committee in the coming weeks,” said Senator Fischer, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“I frequently hear from Iowa’s independent cattle producers about their struggle to get a fair price for their cattle while the nation’s four largest packers operate with record profits. Our latest proposal comes after months of working with staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make technical changes that will allow them to best implement the bill. This bipartisan bill is the best opportunity we have to make real reform in the cattle market this year, and I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to get this across the finish line,” said Senator Grassley, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  

“For too long, large corporations have raised prices on working families while giving Montana ranchers the short end of the stick. Increasing price discovery will give producers more control and better information when they sell their livestock and is a key step in making markets more competitive. Montana ranchers raise the best beef in the world, and it’s about time they got a fair cut for their premium product,” said Senator Tester.

“Oregon’s ranchers shouldn’t face an unfairly tilted marketplace that favors corporate meat packers and undercuts their small family businesses from producing nationally renowned beef for consumers. This bipartisan legislation shows how both parties can come together to level the playing field by restoring market fairness, efficiency, and transparency for U.S. cattle ranchers,” said Senator Wyden, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) immediately announced it supports the new bill language on Monday and urged Congress “to act quickly to pass this critically important legislation.”

“Rampant consolidation in the cattle industry has made pricing in the cattle market increasingly opaque,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “Fair and competitive markets rely on price discovery and transparency. For farmers and ranchers to bargain effectively with packers, they need access to reliable, accurate pricing information. This bill would shed light on the market and bring about greater fairness.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said its Marketing and Competition Committee will review the proposed revisions. “USCA stands with county, state, and national producer associations across the U.S. in supporting mandatory cash trade minimums – a concept that is also supported by the majority of Senate Agriculture Committee members,” said USCA President Brooke Miller. “We are hopeful that the proposed changes will strengthen the intent of the bill’s authors in establishing a fair cattle marketplace, but must thoroughly review the language first.”


USCA/DTN/NFU/Sen. Deb Fischer

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