Senators address ‘The State of Livestock in America’
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Congress continues to debate the status of the national debt ceiling, the agriculture sector is watching closely for cuts that may be made in the 2012 Farm Bill.
To assist in this endeavor, a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, “The State of Livestock in America,” was conducted June 28. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairman of the U.S. Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, monitored the session with two panels offering input; the media was invited to listen in to the live webcast.
Discussion of the proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) dominated the hearings, as reported in the July 13 Wilson County News. See “Cattlemen respond to GIPSA congressional hearings” for an editorial from a national cattlemen’s group regarding the discussion.
Factors identified by the panelists ranged from feed costs to market availability to government regulations, as they explored such issues as commodity prices, export markets, and animal identification.
Dr. Joe Glauber, chief economist for the USDA, addressed the need for stronger markets, including exports. While markets are necessary, an issue the ag sector is facing today is record feed costs, he said. Weather conditions, such as flooding in the Midwestern United States and the drought in the southern portion of the country, have greatly affected commodity prices.
An estimated decline of 230 million bushels corn is anticipated, Glauber said, and this is reflected in the commodity prices. Corn prices are in the $6- to $7-per-bushel range, topping the former record of $5.30 per bushel.
The soybean record, at $11.40 per bushel, also has been surpassed, with prices reaching the $12- to $14-per-bushel range.
Wheat prices also have increased, listed at $7 to $8.40 per bushel.
Glauber said no expansion is being noted in the beef, swine, or poultry industries, due to rising feed costs. This has caused tight profit margins at a time when the United States is seeing the lowest inventory of cattle numbers in years.
Many people will say to expect an increase in food prices, but Glauber said the higher commodity prices will have a small impact there. The livestock industry will feel the brunt of the higher feed costs.
One controversial issue in the past was the proposed National Animal Identification System, scrapped for a more simplified version, known today as the Animal Disease Traceability program. One component of this program, the use of branding as a form of identification, was discussed.
Dr. Greg Parham, administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA, said as many as 14 states use branding as a means of identification (ID) for interstate movement. Debate continues as to whether branding will be included in the proposed ID program.
Since the final plans have not been released, Parham said it is important to “educate the producers and make absolutely clear” what is included in this program.
Parham also addressed disease prevention and the state health agency’s ability to trace and take appropriate measures to engage and protect the U.S. livestock sector.
Protecting this country’s livestock from disease outbreaks, such as foot-and-mouth disease, can make a major impact on the industry, as was the case when South Korea was fighting the disease in April and May.
Due to the Korean outbreak, that country faced a major decline in pork production. Glauber said U.S. exports to Korea increased by 195 percent, due to this disease, but will decline when the country rebounds from the outbreak.
The poultry industry lost export markets to Russia, Glauber said.
However, he estimates a 30- to 40-percent increase in livestock product exports to Columbia within 10 years, once free-trade agreements are finalized.
During the trade discussion, ranking member Pat Roberts questioned Glauber on initial media reports about the World Trade Organization’s decision that the U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) could be in violation of the World Trade Organization.
Glauber said he would “not disclose” any information until the official decision has been released by the World Trade Organization, although he has seen the preliminary report.
Frank Harper, president-elect of the Kansas Livestock Association, outlined concerns with the 2012 Farm Bill and asked Congress to proceed with caution.
Stabenow, in her closing remarks, said the ag industry brings in $250 billion in ag products annually. Farm organizations -- individuals, family-held corporations, and partnerships -- account for more than 2 million jobs nationally, she said.
Hans McPherson, a rancher and member of the Montana Farm Bureau, said the median age of a farmer-rancher is 58. The typical family farmer has to do more with less, he said, with prayer and the belief that better days lie ahead. “The American family farm needs the government’s help ... to help them provide abundant and safe food,” he said.
‘The American family
farm needs the government’s help ... to help them provide abundant and safe food.’
--Hans McPherson, a rancher and member of the Montana Farm Bureau