If you want to measure the uncertainty and anguish of the consolidation of the beef industry, you don't need to go too much farther than AgWeb. The current debate over GIPSA enforcement of new meatpacking regs is well-framed in adjacent posts.
But the real crux of the matter is familiar: who gets to say what agriculture looks like?
What the Dudley Butlers want isn’t going to work. Consolidation is being driven by factors well beyond their control. You and I may not like it, but it is helping provide consumers with more affordable, higher quality products. We’re not all going to be able to make a living growing cattle in the future, I suppose. But by what reasoning do we suppose we have a right—a RIGHT!—to do so?It is curious to me how many in our industry fall back on the lament of "not liking" where the industry is going, but nonetheless would not pry the status quo's hands off the wheel while smaller producers fall under the bus. Impotent sighs of regret strike me as remarkably unhelpful and perhaps short-sighted.
This is, when you boil it down, the same debate we’ve been hearing in recent years about big box stores driving the mom and pop locals out of business. I never believed that a local hardware man had a “right” to force me to pay more for his products. I’m not sure why, then I have a “right” to feed cattle when others can obviously do it better and cheaper.
We have a right to a fair market. A fair chance. We have a right to start the race, but we don’t have a right to win the blue ribbon. [More]
What if the almighty consumer fecklessly drifts to another consumption ideal from "cheap". I have always considered that a long shot, but given my own
Meanwhile, smaller producers see the matter somewhat differently:
Our cattle industry is at a historic crossroad. With the proposed GIPSA rule we can begin to work to rid the marketplace of the ongoing practices that are causing our industry to contract by making sure that our industry receives the full protections Congress afforded us since 1921, but which have yet to be implemented by GIPSA’s proposed rule.I suspect Steve's point of view will prevail, but I doubt if the rewards to economic rationalism will bring him or the industry all that much satisfaction.
Or, we can continue to believe that the meatpackers have our best interests in mind and do exactly what U.S. hog and poultry producers did. As we all know, the hog and poultry producers did nothing while the meatpackers used their market power to vertically integrate the production segments of those industries and, as USDA data show, the result was a loss of about 90 percent of all U.S. hog producers. [More]
More importantly, if grain producers don't see this as relevant to their sector, they are fooling themselves IMHO. Cattle producers may be the closest we have to our heritage of independent producers, and if they can be convinced vertical integration is the future, I see few factors that would prevent a duplication in grain production.
The refusal to accept any limitations, to support wholesale restructuring for a few percent of efficiency or growth has pushed into harsh extremes. Regardless, I see no hint of interest in compromise between the factions.
The question for our farm is what strategy do we deploy to cope with the same pressures on our farm? I see only one sure bet: own the land.