Nebraska Farm Bureau News talked with Sen. Deb Fischer about the issues Nebraska cattle producers face and what her Cattle Market Transparency Act can do to help ensure that every segment of the cattle market is thriving. Nebraska Farm Bureau President Mark McHargue noted the importance of the proposed legislation when he recently commented on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. House Agriculture Committee hearings on the current state of the beef supply chain. “The hearings on cattle markets in the House and Senate again highlight the complexity of the challenges facing cattle producers. Clearly there’s no silver bullet that would immediately lead to higher cattle prices. NEFB supports legislative, regulatory and private sector solutions that will provide more price discovery and transparency for cattle producers and provides a boost to create more processing capacity that is desperately needed. Sen. Fischer’s Cattle Market Transparency Act must be signed into law. It remains the best legislative approach to addressing the marketing issues regularly discussed by Nebraska’s cattle producing families.”
During her discussion with Nebraska Farm Bureau News, Sen. Fischer responded to four questions regarding her Cattle Market Transparency Act.
Q1. Share with us a little bit about what you have been hearing from Nebraska cattle producers and what you see as the largest issues they face.
A1. Beef is expensive right now. Due to high demand during the pandemic over the past year, American families are paying more at the market. However, those rising prices at the grocery stores have not made their way to the very Nebraska ranchers who raised the cattle in the first place. Packers, on the other hand, are in great shape. They are making far more money than any time in recent history—as much as $1,000 a head—even as family ranchers and feedlots are making less. That is why I introduced the bipartisan Cattle Market Transparency Act—because Nebraskans and all Americans win when we ensure that every segment of the cattle market is thriving.
Q2. Your legislation aims to provide more price transparency to the cattle marketplace, what are some of the bill’s provisions that tackle that issue?
A2. One key provision in the bill is that it would increase cash sales on a regional basis. Cash sales give producers important price information, but each region has different needs when it comes to the number of cash sales and formula sales. For example, Nebraska and Iowa are alike in that our cash trade is more robust. But we’re different than states like Texas where there are different logistics and different yard sizes that lead to more businesses marketing through formula sales. In Nebraska and Iowa, we trade about five times more cattle in the cash market than Texas does. My bill would also require USDA to find ways to publish information while maintaining confidentiality. Currently, confidentiality rules keep some regions’ reports from being released publicly. The information being reported by packers is only useful if that information is actually being published for producers to use. Another provision in my bill requires USDA to create a publicly available library of marketing contracts between packers and feed yards. Additionally, packers must report how much cattle will be slaughtered each day for the next 14 days, just as the pork industry already does. These provisions will be helpful for producers in trying to negotiate better deals. I have to mention that I am really pleased this bill enjoys bipartisan support, and I introduced it with my Democratic colleague Ron Wyden from Oregon.
Q3. Do you believe the Senate Ag Committee, where you serve will take up this bill yet this year along with reauthorizing livestock price reporting?
A3. This summer, the Senate Ag Committee held a hearing on cattle market transparency following my urging. It provided ranchers a chance to explain firsthand the pricing and transparency issues they are seeing in the market. During my questions, I focused on the importance of cash sales in determining formula cattle prices and I pushed the witnesses to explain how you could determine formula prices without cash sales, but they weren’t able to provide a good answer on that. The appropriate vehicle for this bill would be the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) reauthorization, which mandates price reporting for livestock including cattle. LMR is up for reauthorization on Sept. 30 of this year, so now is the time to act, and I remain confident we can do so. I am working closely with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, another member of the Ag Committee, on a cattle market proposal that we are hopeful we can move forward as part of the LMR reauthorization. Given everything going on in the Senate, it’s possible we’ll see a short-term clean reauthorization of LMR. If that happens, we’ll just keep working on this provision in hopes of getting it into any long-term reauthorization.
Q4. What can NEFB members do to help get this bill across the legislative finish line?
A4. Members should continue to be vocal in highlighting the issues facing the cattle market to help ensure these challenges receive the attention they deserve. Whether it is contacting members of Congress, writing letters to editors in publications, or sharing information online, it is critical that we get out the message for our cattle producers. I am extremely grateful for the continued support of NEFB members as we work to get a policy that will ensure fairness throughout the cattle market across the finish line.