Where’s the Beef?

Published on: 11:48AM Jan 28, 2009

Fellow AgWeb blogger Steve Cornett did a effective, if not accurate, job of further spreading rumors the other day that the dairy “lobby” has been fishing for federal stimulus dollars to pay for some sort of government buyout.  To wit:


“You’d expect cattlemen of all stripes would get up in arms about a program that uses their taxes to subsidize dairy farmers to dump their beef into their already wrecked beef market.”


In fact, he only was repeating the party line of NCBA, which last week sent a call to action to beef producers, at least those presumably not producing dairy beef, asking them to tell their Senators not to provide any assistance to dairy farmers in the $800 billion stimulus bill now being finalized in Congress.


I must say I am rather surprised that, with the thousands of interest groups with a stake in the economic bailout, wild stories have resulted in this type of high-level media coverage on such a minor issue, given the gravity and heft of the stimulus package.  If you can’t access this insightful story in today’s Wall St. Journal, here’s the relevant section of it:

“The magnitude of the spending bill, and its urgency, drew a swarm of lobbyists seeking money and tax breaks. The concrete and asphalt industries battled over how the government should spend billions proposed for road and bridge repairs, while dairy and beef cattle producers butted heads over talk that the government might buy up dairy cattle for slaughter to drive up depressed milk prices. Unions backed infrastructure spending. States sought budget bailouts.

"When you've got 800-plus billion dollars to spend, you'll have an equal number of opinions on how it should be spent," said Chris Galen, spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, the dairy industry's main lobbying group.”

We at NMPF have been trying recently to disabuse the media (like this DC-based publication), as well as panicky ranchers, that there is no buyout, never has been, and we are not seeking one.  There IS, and has been since 2003, our private Cooperatives Working Together program, which is farmer-funded and farmer-driven.  And it will likely continue its herd reductions in 2009 – in fact, we’re still removing cows now from the national herd with CWT’s sixth herd retirement since the summer of `03.


Chasing ghosts, or wild geese, or dairy buyouts, may be a productive use of someone’s time.  At some point, however, you have to answer where the beef is. 


It ain’t here in this story.


One thing I can tell you for sure:  if something isn’t done to improve the overall economy, let alone help dairy farmers specifically, this financial crisis will result in plenty of cattle herds being liquidated as dairy farmers go under.  Strengthening the fiscal health of dairy producers is actually in the beef industry’s best interests, if their rhetoric about being sensitive to a decline in beef prices, due to fire-sale liquidations of dairy herds, is factual.