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Cattlemen fly to Washington to talk to federal lawmakers




D.C. Correspondent


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Cattlemen from across the country gathered in the nation’s capital for another successful meeting with legislators.

Members of Congress, the USDA, EPA and other policymakers need to be kept informed of what farmers and ranchers across the country need and want to be successful. So, the best people to provide that information are the farmers and ranchers themselves, said Jon Wooster, president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Assoc. (USCA).

"They have a lot to do with how we grow things and need to hear from us," Wooster said. "They like to know what’s going on. They don’t always hear from their constituents, especially in agriculture."

About 25 cattlemen from several states met with their senators. They discussed country of origin labeling, or COOL, which the USDA also supports. Surveys have shown that consumers in the United States want to know where their food originates, Wooster said. "We’re happy with the farm bill, especially in the Senate," he said.

Their only concern with the House farm bill is it included language about COOL. He would like to see that language removed until the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the courts rule on the program. It is currently being opposed by several ag groups, while the USCA and other groups supporting the program defend it.

"Hopefully it’ll be upheld," Wooster said. He thinks it’s likely some form of the bill will be approved by the WTO, but said the body tends to compromise on decisions and he is not sure what the final COOL language will be approved.

"In court, the decisions handed down so far have gone against the plaintiff ... We’re waiting to hear if those will be upheld," Wooster said.

He thinks the WTO will announce its decision in September if USDA COOL regulations are in compliance with world standards. Once a decision is made, the losing side will likely appeal, Wooster speculated. "It’s a long process, but we’re going step by step."

The cattlemen also met with representatives of the USDA. There have been discussions about importing live cattle from Brazil and Argentina, but those regions have had a recent outbreak of disease among the animals. The live cattle would be used to help increase herd size and for breeding, which means if one member of the herd is misdiagnosed, it could cause the disease to spread in the United States. "We don’t think the amount of product will be worth the risk. Members of Congress are also concerned about this," Wooster said.

Recent and persistent droughts across the country have been a concern for U.S. cattlemen. Fortunately, the drought has not affected the entire country at the same time, he said.

Texas has received adequate rainfall for the year, so farmers and ranchers are buying breeding cattle and calves to increase their herds. The Plains states are getting hit by the drought and selling off those animals, he said. "The size of the herd in the U.S. is the lowest it’s been in 60 years and a lot is a result of the drought," Wooster said. "We received good prices for these cattle because there was a place to go with them."

Texas ranchers are buying the cattle for more than they sold them for a few years ago, which is good for the Plains now – but when the Plains ranchers want to buy back the cattle, the prices will likely go higher, he estimated.

He noted the USDA approved emergency financial aid for the ranchers in April and some of them have already started to receive funds, what he termed a fast turnaround for any government organization.

The cattlemen also met with the EPA about the Clean Water Act. "It was a very good meeting," Wooster said.

The primary concern with the Act is how the EPA’s "Waters of the U.S." proposal will roll out and how it will impact the farms across the country. "We still have reservations. Water is the lifeblood of agriculture. Anytime it’s changed, it’ll have consequences," Wooster said.

"Members of Congress are watching what they’re trying to do, too."

Overall, he said the fly-in was successful. It was the first of the year, but the USCA will likely have a few more. These are scheduled for different seasons of the year to allow members who might be busy on the farm to fly-in for a different meeting.

"This was one of the largest fly-ins," Wooster said. "Overall, everything looks good for the industry. Supply and demand will work over time, get cattle numbers back up where they were. We just need basic tools from Mother Nature."