By Steve Cornett
Typically, when you gather at the annual convention of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the mood depends on cattle markets. Good markets equal good moods. Bad markets—especially markets like we’ve had the last years, with cattle feeders so bled down they have to beg beer off those few of us with expense accounts—equal bad moods.
Something tells me this year will be different for one reason: Last week’s election in Massachusetts. I know there are a few democrats at the typical NCBA convention and maybe even a liberal somewhere, but by and large, this is not a crowd you would call enthusiastic about the Obama agenda. At least, he isn’t a featured speaker like President Bush was a few years ago.
So, maybe there will be a few chuckles in the crowd this year, despite the market.
And there will be lots of other things to talk about and—well, of course—argue over.
I suppose one of the more interesting for those who like inside-baseball stuff will be the governance task force. You’ll recall that the association wants to reorganize itself. I’ve not heard a lot of concern with the task force report from within NCBA, but the leadership at the Cattlemen’s Beef Board is another matter.
As we mentioned in the January issue of Beef Today, the CBB leadership feels the proposed new structure would leave the federation of state beef councils too beholden to the will of non-CBB NCBA members.
The CBB leadership feels that the proposed structure would give the federation—whose state beef council members control half of all checkoff dues—would yield too much control to NCBA.
It will be interesting to see how it works out, but you can bet it will consume a bunch of time and attention as the various factions hammer at each other. That’s what I love most about NCBA conventions. You get to hear smart guys with (in some cases) hard heads argue over points so Lilliputian that one is occasionally reminded of the way calves bump heads, just to see how hard the other guy pushes back. It’s like a morning at the coffee shop, only with nicer clothes and (in SOME cases) more informed opinions.
The reorganization thing will have plenty of that, you can bet. But on other issues, this bodes to be a pretty mild meet. I haven’t found anybody promising to wear rooster gaffs, anyhow.
I’m advised there was, as of last week, no sign of any big stir on the “captive supplies” front. You may have seen that R-Calf hissy-fitted over the deal between National and Hitch Feeders, and the hissy worked its way back to some feeders, many of whom have been fretting about contracted cattle for years.
That could come up. Typically, state associations develop their recommendations at their state conventions earlier in the season, then forward them before the big convention starts. But there are several delegations that can be counted on to open an old wound if they sense a chance to make progress, and they can always bring new resolutions after the meeting starts.
I’m not sure that will happen this time. The Hitch-National deal will have little impact, if only because the two neighbor and most of the Hitch cattle go to National anyhow.
Nonetheless, every time a new drop hits the bucket of captive supplies, you can count on a howl from some folks.
There’s a reason for it. The USDA studies have never managed to find any big problem with it, but as more cattle get pulled out of the cash market, the sample gets thinner. Even the many feeders and producers who appreciate the reasons behind delivery contracts fret that if the market continues to consolidate, some day, somebody has to figure out a way to price cattle without the give and take of cash bids.
The problem is, nobody has dreamt up a better alternative just yet. Nobody I stumbled onto last week thinks it will be a big issue this meeting. But sometimes, when there’s nothing meaty to fight over, stuff boils to the top at the last minute.
So, as always, there will be some internecine bickering among NCBA members. But there won’t be much disagreement on some of the important issues facing the cattle business.
The association, for instance, last week signed on to a bipartisan congressional effort to force the Administration’s EPA to reverse its decision to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant. For NCBA, such a position is about automatic, but there is also a lot of support for the concept on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
There is also the continuing challenge posed by exports, with some important customer countries refusing to accept what US producers and trade representatives regard as settled science. That challenge has taken on new importance with the threat of Russia refusing to accept poultry meat treated with chlorine.
I’m not sure what NCBA can, policy-wise, do about that. But they’ll do what they can, which is urge the Administration to push harder.
You can tell by the cattle market that there are plenty of other issues standing between beef producers and profitability. Beef demand is an ongoing problem. The animal rights agenda seems to be still gathering strength.
If I’ve learned anything in attending NCBA conventions, it’s that there are enough opinions and ideas at play that you never know what might come up.
Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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