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Senators sponsor bill to help cattle producers during coronavirus pandemic

 

March 25, 2020



Havre Daily News staff

Montana’s U.S. senators have sponsored a bill to help offset a drop cattle futures following the coronavirus outbreak.

“This coronavirus has only worsened market conditions and it is critical that we provide the necessary support for Montana ag,” U.S. Sen. Daines, R-Mont., said in a press release. “Montana ranchers need relief quickly while we continue to work on the long term issues with market competition.”

Daines’ release said he held a call with Montana ag groups including the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Farm Bureau, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, Montana Grain Growers Association, and other leaders in Montana ag to discuss the situation.

A release from the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester D-Mont., said the bipartisan rancher relief bill will use federal funds to bring security to small-scale cow/calf and independent operators by setting up a price support program that pays the difference between the Economic Research Service’s projected prices and the actual sale price of livestock.

The program would cap at sales of 10,000 head, preventing major feeders from disproportionately benefiting over independent producers.

“Because of this crisis, beef prices are floundering and our family-operated ranches are struggling to meet their bottom lines,” Tester said in the release. “If we don’t act quickly to stabilize cattle markets we’re going to see more and more corporate consolidation in agriculture as independent producers are no longer able to compete. This bill will help provide Montana ranchers the security they need to get through the year — and this pandemic — with the tools to stay in business.”

In May of 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture put out its 2020 cattle price forecasts using the 5-Area average price for live cattle projections, and the Oklahoma City prices for feeder cattle projections. These predictions came out to $121 per hundred weight for live cattle and $150 per hundred weight for feeder cattle, and will be used to compensate cow/calf operators under the legislation.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, beef markets saw the steepest price decline in forty years, with most prices dropping roughly $30 per hundredweight.

  Tester also called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take steps.

“Since January 1, 2020, live cattle futures lost nearly a quarter of their value. As the United States continues to take measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, cattle prices are likely to continue to decline,” wrote Tester in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “I urge the United States Department of Agriculture to examine this urgent situation and take steps to support the domestic cattle industry.”

Tester continued: “Your actions now could make the difference between folks going broke, or staying in the industry for another generation.”

And March 19, Daines, along with U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Assistant U.S. Attorney General Makan Delrahim urging the U.S. Department of Justice investigate allegations of price fixing or other unfair practices by the meatpacking industry.

“At a time when cattle producers are seeing record losses and bankruptcies, now exacerbated by the COVID-19, compared to the shelf price of meat at record highs — these margins fail to make sense. We ask that the Department of Justice Antitrust Division evaluate these dual concerns thoroughly and expeditiously in order to protect the integrity of America’s failing beef industry,” the senators wrote.

 

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