South Dakota cattle producers unite for fair prices
By Lura Roti For South Dakota Farmers Union
via Aberdeen News (SD) - Feb 11, 2020
Fair prices. Is that too much to ask? More than 300 South Dakota cattle producers answered this question in unison gathering in Wessington Springs during the Foothills Cattle Producers Roundup. Cattle producers called on D.C. leadership to support fair prices through truth in labeling.
“This is such an American issue, not a rural America issue, not a cattle issue, it is an American issue,” explains Brett Kenzy, a fourth-generation Gregory cattle producer. Actively involved in R-CALF, Kenzy has spent hundreds of hours calling, emailing and traveling to D.C. to advocate for country-of-origin labeling (COOL) since it was revoked in 2015.
However, during the Roundup, he left his R-CALF hat at the door. “We invited members from all cattle organizations with the goal to keep the event politically neutral. No ties to any one organization because we need to unify with one voice to fix what is going on,” explains Scott Kolousek, fifth-generation Wessington Springs cattle producer and one of the producers who helped organize the event.
“Until we all get on the same page, and all the organizations start fighting the same fight, we aren’t going to make it better for producers,” adds Wade Christensen, another event organizer and co-owner of Kimball Livestock Exchange.
In October, Kimball Livestock Exchange LLC sponsored a bus to transport more than 40 South Dakota producers to Omaha where more than 350 cattle producers from across the region united to rally for fair prices.
“Cattle producers are fed up with packer concentration and the unfair ability to market their cattle,” Christensen says.
Prices have been on a steady decline, falling by nearly 60 percent, since COOL was repealed in 2015. Prices are so low, that after feed costs, veterinary bills and breeding fees are paid, cattle producers are lucky to break even. Those who do make a profit, can’t contribute much to their family’s living expenses, explains Philip Wipf, 57, a Wessington Springs cow/calf producer. “For the last four years, the margins have gotten tighter and tighter, to the point where there is no margin left. If it wasn’t for off-farm income, we wouldn’t have enough.”
In 2018, after all the cattle expenses were paid, Wipf was only able to contribute $10,000 to help cover his family’s groceries, utilities, insurance and other bills. When all is said and done for 2019, he’s not sure he will even be able to do that.
Unfortunately, Wipf’s situation is not unique. Current cattle markets put all cattle producers in a similar category of barely scraping by or going backward financially. The solution, many believe, comes down to holding packers accountable to label meat they process truthfully.
“COOL would prevent packers from mislabeling meat. Now, when you go to the grocery store, it’s all labeled ‘Product of the USA.’ Packers can bring in meat from other countries, like Mexico and Brazil and all they have to do is repackage it, and they can put that sticker on it,’” Wipf explains.
Without truth in labeling, packers are also able to blend lower quality meat from other countries with U.S. beef.
Did leadership hear what cattle producers had to say? ...