Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Kate Miller and Kim Hardan, and do not necessarily represent the views of Drovers or Farm Journal. Miller, is a third-generation rancher, a tenured meat sales professional and has a background in trade development. Hardan grew up on a livestock operation in Washington and completed an Animal Science degree at Texas A&M University. For the last ten years, she has been a successful protein salesman in food service in the Texas market.
The Organization for Competitive Markets hosted a rally and meeting to ‘Stop the Stealin’! in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday, October 2, 2019. This event created a social media firestorm, with enthusiastic producers from multiple states heading to the event. The immensely popular #FairCattleMarkets campaign by the Western Ag Reporter was originally started to draw the industry together and create momentum towards initiating simple changes to improve the marketplace for all cattlemen.
According to a source from within the Western Ag Journal, they were not a sponsor of the rally in Omaha and no members of their staff attended as participants. So how did their hard-won brand equity and grassroots campaign become the centerpiece slogan for a fringe association rally?
Following the announcement of the itinerary for the Omaha gathering, some troubling patterns emerged. If this is meant to be a rally for independent producers and feedlots in the heart of Trump- supporting farm country, perhaps we should better understand a few of the sponsoring and participating voices.
Who is the Organization for Competitive Markets?
The Organization for Competitive Markets was founded in 1998 to address the growing inequities between family farmers and agribusiness in the food sector, according to their website. OCM has been involved in a multi-year battle to reform the Beef Checkoff program. According to their own website, OCM began accepting pro bono legal services provided for by the Humane Society of the United States. Searching through HSUS 990 disclosures revealed the involvement of the Humane Society predates the legal services, as HSUS awarded OCM $20,750 in 2012 for a conference sponsorship.
The Humane Society of the United States has long been a front-running voice in ending meat consumption and agribusiness in the United States. Their own website lists Eating Humanely as one of their top fights, inspiring people to consume less meat by promoting a meatless diet as a healthier, more sustainable, less expensive and more humane dietary choice.
OCM’s co-founder and board member, Mike Callicrate, has deep ties with the organization. He is a member of the Humane Society of the United States Agriculture Advisory Board, the Humane Society of Colorado Agriculture Advisory Board and on his personal website he list HSUS in his Alliances with Food and Water Watch, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and my personal favorite: Fix Food--- a group that wrote a scathing dissent on the Dodge Ram Super Bowl Commercial, fear mongers about ‘super bugs’ caused by antibiotic use in agriculture and is apparently anti GMO’s.
The Executive Director of the Organization for Competitive Markets is Joe Maxwell, the former Vice President of Outreach and Engagement for the Humane Society of the United States and the self-pro-claimed defeater of Oklahoma’s Right to Farm Bill.
Callicrate, OCM and SRAP vs Missouri Family Farmer
With the heavy-hitting line up of HSUS advocates at the helm, what does the Organization for Competitive Markets stand for? Their ‘About Us’ Section details a noble endeavor: “OCM was founded on the premise that independent farmers and ranchers must ultimately survive and prosper by receiving fair and adequate compensation for their products through the marketplace.”
But mounting evidence shows allegiance with organizations, aside from HSUS, who have fingerprints on putting those very independent ranchers out of business. As evidenced by the case of Valley Oaks Steak Company.
Valley Oaks Steak Company, a third generation family owned beef operation in Missouri, was forced to immediately close their facility after announcing plans to expand. The feedlot operation had filed a proposal to move from 999 head to 6,999 operational capacity, and then was viciously attacked from special interest groups—including having cattle shot. Valley Oaks was an organization that sought to do things the right way, as a local family owned venture they were attempting to reinvest their local dollars back into their community to add jobs and a local market choice for Kansas City area residents.
Valley Oaks sold Angus bulls to local ranchers and purchased calves back as part of a buy-back program. The cattle were fed and processed in Lone Jack, Missouri, and sold online, in retail outlets and marketed as a farm-to-table option for Kansas City restaurants.
Yet after the expansion petition was filed a local chapter of the SRAP organization was formed: the Lone Jack Neighbors for Responsible Agriculture. According to a press release, Terry Spence, the Executive Director of SRAP and Missouri native, was credited with the decision to involve Powell Gardens for additional funding and to garner public support to fight the expansion.
SRAP and LJNRA are outspoken in its fight against Concentrated Animal Feeding Units or CAFO’s, the distinctive and prejudicial title is applied without discrimination to all feedlot operations—as they remove animals from their ‘natural habitat’ into a concentrated confinement area. SRAP has deep ties with leading anti-agriculture associations such as the Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States, as many of their board members and staff have been awarded achievement awards for their services from these organizations.
But how is the failure of a third-generation family ranching operation’s intent to expand into a regional packer connected to the Organization for Competitive Markets? In theory this operation would be an ideal representation of a family-owned feeding and packing company that could have provided Missouri and Kansas cattlemen an opportunity to market cattle outside the alleged monopoly conditions that OCM claims exist.
The mounting list of evidence:
- Chris Peterson, from Clear Lake, Iowa, sits on the board for the Organization for Competitive Markets. He is also a Regional Representative Staff Member for the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.
- Dr. John Ikerd is a board member for SRAP and was this year’s keynote speaker at the 2019 OCM Annual Conference. Dr. Ikerd considers Concentrated Animal Feeding Units, such as feedlots, to be one of the biggest concerns facing agriculture.
- But the most damning is in the form of OCM co-founder and board member, Mike Callicrates’s own Mobile Meat Processing Unit or MMPU Project. By SRAP’s 2009 990 disclosures and subsequent web promotion SRAP endowed the now closed Nebraska Environmental Action Coalition with a grant to develop the MMPU in 2008. The development was then overseen to another closed non-profit Renewable Harvest, but the unit was promoted and resided with Mike Callicrate as a harvesting facility for his privately held company Ranch Foods Direct. Another collection of articles explaining this relationship between the MMPU, SRAP and Callicrate can be found here.
Callicrate is an outspoken advocate for local and regional food systems. Which is odd considering that Valley Oaks was dedicated supporter of their local market from the cow calf segment to selling steaks to Kansas City restaurants. Did Callicrate come to the aid of Valley Oaks Steak Company, the very kind of family owned, regional packing company he claims to want to support? I could find no evidence of this. However you can see the evidence of his integration and support for the organization that was instrumental in the demise of the operation quite plainly. I wonder, why did OCM not rush to the aid of a fellow regional, family owned operator?
Family Farm Action
Who doesn’t love the family farm? Politicians everywhere can unite behind ‘saving the family farm.’
Donald Trump won the election in Nebraska securing 58.7% of the vote. All five of Nebraska Congressional and Senate delegates are Republicans. So what does a Democratic SuperPac and the Omaha Rally have in common?
Family Farm Action claims to be political muscle for the family farmer. Joe Maxwell, Executive Director of OCM is also the President and Founder of Family Farm Action. There are no red flags on the website, until you click “Donate.” Then the truth comes out. When you donate to Family Farm Action, you are actually donating to Family Farm Action as a sub campaign of ActBlue. ActBlue is the Democratic fundraising nonprofit, a Carey committee who operates like a Democratic Super Pac and is instrumental to the success of the DCCC, who in the first half of 2019 raised $420 million dollars for democratic campaigns and progressive movements.
Going beyond this fine print, the speaker was Wes Shoemyer. Shoemyer ran for office as a Democrat in Missouri in 2000 securing a successful bid for the Missouri House. Following successful campaigns, he continued in 2006 and was elected into the Missouri State Senate. During his time in legislature, he was a member of Missouri Farm Bureau and according to a Protect The Harvest article was an outspoken critic of the Humane Society of the United States, issuing the following statement: “These people (HSUS), without any consideration of their fellow man, will do great, great harm to our country. We have to fight them. This is about preserving our rights. This is about preserving our way of life. I hope you get involved in this fight.”
But Shoemyer was beaten in a 2010 bid by a fellow Missouri Farm Bureau associate. When Missouri’s Right to Farm Bill was brought forward, Shoemyer ran the group Missouri Food for America---in opposition to the Missouri’s Right to Farm Bill. According to a 2014 Campaign Finance Disclosure, the Humane Society Legislative Fund was Shoemyer’s groups largest donor, giving $379,000 to the campaign on 7/22/2014 and Terry Spence, the Executive Director of SRAP gave a $100 personal donation on 7/11/2014.
Wrapping This Up
I am a cow-calf operator. I don’t work for a packer and I am not a member of the NCBA. This will be the first things they use to slander me. I’m an independent thinker who is capable of a Google search, and when you start putting names into the Google search bar the pattern begins to form. If I had attended this Omaha rally, would I have noticed the associations and connections to special interest groups who have never stood on the side of any farming operation----unless they align with the progressive agenda’s definition of what a farmer is supposed to be?
I appreciate the spark of passion that ignites someone to pursue what they believe in---but that is the question here: what do they believe in? Do they want #FairCattleMarkets for everyone? Does that include CAFO feedlot operators? Does that include regional processors like Valley Oaks? Does that include NCBA members? Does that include people who support the Checkoff? Does that include people who use antibiotics under a VFD? Does that include people who farm GMO corn and beans and cotton and raise cows? Does it include people who voted for Trump or donate to WinRed?
Or do they support the future of farming as it is defined by their common benefactor the HSUS? And if so, what does that mean for all of us?
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