MSGA Leadership Travels to Washington D.C. to Advocate Top Priorities Facing Montana’s Cattle Industry

Helena, MT – A leadership delegation from the Montana Stockgrowers Association traveled to Washington D.C. April 12-14 to lobby numerous issues with Congress and Federal agencies. These issues included: Eradication of Brucellosis, Country of Origin Labeling for U.S. Beef, stopping the proposed federal bison quarantine facility, federal water regulations, sage grouse, endangered species, Antiquities Act (i.e. monument designations) reform and international trade.

MSGA brought forth tactical ideas to eliminate the threat of Brucellosis expansion beyond Montana’s Designated Surveillance Area (DSA). In a meeting with Dr. T.J. Myers, Associate Deputy Administrator with USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services MSGA requested that Brucella Abortus be removed from the USDA and Center for Disease Control’s select bioterrorism agents list. This would allow for more research to develop a more effective vaccine for bison, elk and cattle. MSGA also requested continued federal funding support for Montana’s DSA implementation but to also develop a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho along with USDA and the National Park Service that commits to the elimination of brucellosis from the Greater Yellowstone Area. Montana’s DSA is not a long-term solution to brucellosis management.

MSGA met with senior staff on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Congressman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) to discuss possible industry led alternatives to the recently repealed mandatory country of origin labeling of beef. In particular MSGA has policy to work on the development of a comprehensive, broad-based industry led labeling program for U.S. beef.

MSGA has a strong relationship with Montana’s Public Lands Council and Association of State Grazing Districts to work on federal land grazing matters.  MSGA and PLC met with Neil Kornze, Director of BLM, and requested that BLM reconsider the decision to allow year-round bison grazing on Montana’s Flat Creek Allotment located in Phillips County.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was another top priority for MSGA while in D.C. It was universally felt by Montana’s Congressional delegation that a vote on TPP would not happen until after the 2016 election, however MSGA feels that TPP should be a top priority for Congress regardless of political elections. The TPP will remove tariff barriers in some of our major export markets including Japan – one of our largest beef export markets. The TPP is expected to increase cash receipts and net exports from Montana by $86.9 million and $56.6 million per year respectively.

It is vitally important for Montana’s ranching community to have representation in Washington, D.C. and MSGA was very pleased with the outcome of the many high-level meetings that were held with members of Congress and Administration officials. MSGA would also like to thank Senator Tester, Senator Daines and Representative Zinke and their professional staff for their time and commitment to Montana’s cattle and ranching industry.

house ag committee

L to R back row: Senior House Agriculture Commmitte Staff Christine Heggem; Public Lands Council Vicki Olson – Malta, MT; Montana Cattlewomen Wanda Pinnow – Baker, MT; MSGA President Gene Curry – Valier, MT; MSGA Director of Natural Resources Jay Bodner – Helena, MT; MSGA Executive Vice President Errol Rice – Helena, MT. Front row: MSGA 1st Vice President Bryan Mussard – Dillon, MT; MSGA 2nd Vice President Fred Wacker – Miles City, MT.

House Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on the State of the Livestock Industry

House Agriculture Committee(via NCBA, Beltway Beef) The House Committee on Agriculture hosted a hearing last week to review the state of the livestock industry. Representing the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the North American Meat Association and Harris Ranch, Mike Smith came to D.C. to discuss the beef industry.

Smith works for Harris Ranch, one of the nation’s largest family-owned agribusinesses in the western United States. A diversified company, Harris Ranch feeds roughly 250,000 head of cattle each year and operates one of the largest feedlots in the U.S., as well as farming over 17,000 acres, operating one of the largest thoroughbred horse farms, and running a 150-room inn and restaurant complex.

Noting the hard times the beef industry has faced over the past few years, Smith discussed five issues directly impacting the industry: drought, federal regulations, taxes, trade and country-of-origin labeling.

Hailing from California, Smith said he is all too familiar with the lack of water plaguing the U.S. California is facing the worst drought in recorded history and federal and state regulations to restrict water allocation has only made the drought worse for farmers and ranchers. The Endangered Species Act severely restricts water access and has caused hardship for many producers across the country, Smith said.

“It’s not just the ongoing drought that is hurting our industry,” Smith said. “The onslaught of Federal rules and regulations continue to put pressure on the growth of America’s cattle herd. In California, we are already subject to more rules and regulations than any other cattle producing state. These state rules are compounded by the rules coming from agencies such as the EPA.”

EPA’s proposed rule to redefine the Waters of the United States has raised concerns about the expanding jurisdiction the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Under this proposal, it is likely some cattle producers will have to file for a permit to conduct activities on their private property.“Effectively, this amounts to a huge land grab by EPA and directly threatens long-established private property rights,” said Smith.

Another area of concern is transportation. Obsolete and ridiculous rules such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “30-minute” rule endangers the welfare of livestock by stopping the airflow through the trailer, causing added stress to the cattle, said Smith. Similarly, by adding an additional axle, increased truck weights would allow more cattle to be shipped with fewer truck loads while causing less wear and tear on roads and bridges than there is now. Smith urged the Congress to address transportation reauthorization and look at ways to maximize shipping capabilities.

Addressing the issue of taxes, Smith said that is extremely important that Congress take urgent action to make permanent the tax extenders package made up of the tax provisions which expired in 2013 – particularly the section 179 at a level of $500,000. Section 179 allows producers to who purchase new equipment to depreciate the value quicker at a larger amount.

“We can’t talk about taxes without mentioning the Death Tax,” said Smith. “Even though Congress made improvements to the Death Tax provisions at the end if 2012, we still full repeal. In order to make sure that a future Congress does not revert back to the $1 million exemption, it is imperative that we finally repeal the Death Tax once and for all.”

Trade has been a top priority for the cattle industry. International markets give the mature and developed cattle industry more opportunity for expansion as countries with an increasing middle class have more disposable income and want a higher quality diet. Ongoing negotiations to conclude the Trans Pacific Partnership will define beef trade between the U.S. and Japan. Smith said support of a TPP deal should only come if the tariffs Japan is demanding are eliminated. Trade agreements are currently worth roughly $300 per head, nearly 20 percent of fed cattle’s overall value. Trade is important, and should be based on sound science, said Smith. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has proposed a rule that would allow certain states within Brazil to ship fresh and frozen beef into the United States. Smith explained that the issue is Brazil still has a problem with Foot-and-Mouth Disease, an economically devastating disease the U.S. eradicated in the early 1900’s.

Even more concerning, said Smith, is that APHIS does not seem to be adequately prepared for this proposed rule. Many of the documents used to formulate the proposed rule were in Portuguese with no translation and many of the documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act were not received.

Wrapping up his testimony, Smith explained the burden of country-of-origin labeling. Proponents of COOL have long said that mandatory labeling would cause the U.S. consumer to pay more for U.S. beef, but five years of implementation has proved the opposite. Kansas State University conducted a study on COOL which showed the vast majority of consumers do not even look at the COOL label when buying beef. On top of that, COOL has caused two of our largest trading partners to file a case with the World Trade Organization against the United States. If they win, they will be able to retaliate against the beef industry.

“If we lose access to those markets, or they are restricted by the enactment of tariffs, that will have a negative impact on all U.S. producers,” said Smith. “We remain perplexed why our government wants to hurt our industry for a simple marketing program that has proven to be ineffective. COOL is all about marketing and has absolutely nothing to do with food safety. Those who use that argument know nothing about the food safety protocols in this country.”

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