More than 300 cattle producers from across America decked out in hats and boots made the rounds on Capital Hill the past week to let lawmakers know where they stand on issues like the Death Tax, repair of the Endangered Species Act, animal ID and reform of the Superfund as it relates to animal waste.
Sponsored as part of the National Cattlemen Beef Association's annual Spring Legislative Conference, the five-day assault on the nation's capital ended Thursday with a press conference hosted by Terry Stokes, NCBA chief executive officer; Mike John, NCBA 2006 president; John Queen, NCBA president elect; and Jay Truitt, vice president of governmental affairs.
Among the topics reporters asked about were:
The Death Tax - Does the fact there are probably only 60 votes at this point in the Senate favoring full repeal of the Inheritance Tax concern NCBA? And will the Association accept compromise?
Truitt says although the Association appreciates the "dynamics that are taking place in the Senate, you have to accept the fact that â€¦ there is a repeal on the books already, so anything that takes away from the appeal that already exists is â€¦ a step backwardsâ€¦" Truitt says NCBA considers the death tax inherently wrong. "There is something almost immoral about the fact that we tax to the point that we lose the most important asset in a ranching operation which is usually the leader of that family business. Our objective here is not to try and figure out how to slice and dice the industry up between whose ranch, according to the IRS, might be worth more or less than some other. He says it's wrong to determine agricultural value of land based on its potential development value.
"Our intention is to make sure that farmers and ranchers continue into the future as far as they possibly can." He says NCBA will push for full repeal of the tax, which could get a Senate vote before Memorial Day recess. "Some other package might get past us, but NCBA clearly, strongly and adamantly supports complete, permanent repeal."
State of the industry - How do NCBA officials see the cattle economy today? "If you haven't made a profit in the last four or five years, you better change businesses," says Queen, a cow-calf producer from Waynesville, NC. Despite the generally upbeat opinion NCBA officials had of the beef economy, Paul Hitch, an Oklahoma feeder and stocker and vice president elect, reminded the conference that in regions stricken over the past year or so by hurricanes and wildfires, some producers struggle terribly. Hitch says there has been an outpouring of feed and other supplies from other regions to those battered by nature.
Consumer confidence - John, A cow-calf producer from Hunstville, Mo., says the beef industry is "riding on a wave of consumer confidence we've probably never had in the United States. Confidence in our product, confidence in our inspections, in our safety system, confidence in the surveillance system."
Packers and Stockyards Act - Does NCBA want to see the Act done away with since it hasn't been enforced over the last five or six years? Is it just an antiquated law with no real purpose in the current market? A report filed recently by the U.S. Inspector General says USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration has failed to perform investigatory duties for the Packers and Stockyard Program since 1999. The PSP is responsible for maintaining fair-trade practices in the marketing of livestock, which, according to the report, means the "Office of General Council has filed no administrative complaints â€¦ for anticompetitive practices since 1999."
Truitt says that, stated as it was, the question was a "mischaracterization" of the association's view of the Act. "We do believe there is an appropriate role for government," he says. "We understand there's been an investigation of what's taken place over at GIPSA over the last few years." Truitt says NCBA has discussed the issue with both the program's current administrator and Agriculture Sec. Mike Johanns. "Our concerns were included in that report. The secretary and administrator have given us their word that they intend to do the best job that they can to enforce the Act from here on forward. We're going to support that."