MANDAN, N.D.- U.S. Cattlemen's Association is an organization that feels at home taking in a cattle auction or sitting around listening to family ranchers and small cattle feeders talk about issues important to them.
That is exactly what they were doing over the past month. In North Dakota, USCA representatives spoke and gathered comments from ranchers at KIST Livestock during a break in the cattle auction, and later that evening held a free dinner at Dean's Steakhouse in Mandan, N.D., for livestock producers.
USCA considers itself a "go-between," bringing concerns of farmers and ranchers to Congress and major organizations in Washington, D.C., said Jess Peterson, executive vice-president of USCA and a rancher near Miles City, Mont.
"We've been speaking in five states in the last two weeks," said Peterson during the organization's stop at KIST Livestock. He told ranchers he was sorry about the problems with R-CALF a few years ago, but in many ways it was a "good thing" because it gave cattle producers choices and more than one organization working for their interests.
Peterson spoke on GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration) rules, stating the current rules "clarify what unfair practices are" and allow USDA to enforce rules and regulations that prohibit preferential pricing.
"Just because a practice is good for the large cattle feeders doesn't mean it is good for us," he said. "The House has defended the current rules and I hope the Senate keeps the funding in place. USDA needs the (GIPSA) rule to enhance our markets."
Peterson added rancher comments on the proposed rule "made a positive difference" in the GIPSA rule.
He also spoke about the new USDA-APHIS Animal Identification (called Animal Disease Traceability (ADT)) rules.
"They proposed putting 'readers' in sales barns to read tags when loading and unloading cattle," Peterson said. "We shut down those proposals."
USCA supports using the current branding program that producers in the Northern Plains states already use, along with metal tags for cattle. It uses low-technology, inexpensive ways for disease traceability rather than expensive cost-prohibitive ways of identification.
"I encourage you to go to the USCA website and read about the program. Get involved; make sure it is a workable program," Peterson said.
The USDA is taking comments on the ADT program until Nov. 9.
On the beef check-off, Peterson said it is a great program that can be made better.
"With a shrinking cow herd, we need every dollar working in that beef check-off for the cowman," he said, adding that oversight is needed so the dollars go where they need to go.
Peterson said the USCA has always been supportive of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL), and has been involved with this issue from its inception.
"We have it working in the U.S. and now we need to get it working across the ocean," he said, adding the World Trade Organization has favored Mexico and Canada over the U.S., with the COOL labeling.
USCA has gathered signatures and raised funding to make sure COOL stays intact to allow U.S. cattlemen to promote their own products.
"We're not going to lose on COOL," Peterson said.
Agriculture is becoming more and more important, and will be the engine that drives the U.S. out of the recession, accordingto peterson, as long as rules are fair to small farmers, ranchers and feeders.
"It is a great cattle market right now. I'm glad I'm raising cattle," Peterson said in closing.
He encouraged producers to join USCA at the membership price of $100.
"If I came out to your ranch and gave you a work pickup for $100 that really worked hard for you and your herd, that is what the U.S. Cattlemen's is," Peterson said.
He said producers can listen in and take part in USCA's Horn Wrap conference call to facilitate active dialogue on issues affecting the U.S. cattle industry.
For more information, see www.uscattlemen.org.