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Washington DC

Acting with certainty in uncertain times in the cattle business

Both cattle markets and politics are causing a lot of uncertainty right now. The problem is deciphering which is the bigger issue.

The cattle market and the political environment today have a lot in common—nobody seems to know what is happening or what the outcome will be, but they do know that it is a totally different environment than we are used to dealing with.  

On the political front, the experts want to call it a shift to populism. I struggle with that definition a little bit; I would narrow it down to the key components of populist messages and just call it an environment of fear and anger. Washington D.C. never has had a long-term perspective. The next election cycle is about as long term as they get.

That seems like an eternity away now. Neither the administration or Congress seem to have a time horizon beyond the issue of the day, and those are not even positions as much as they are political decisions in a game designed to score some sort of victory. But even victory is scored differently. It isn’t about accomplishing a political means, but simply winning the public opinion poll at the end of that given day.

The issues that are important to agriculture are simply not on the agenda. Agriculture didn’t move the needle in the last election and even on issues like trade, where we should play a big role, our voice is not being heard.

The one thing you can say with certainty about the Beltway right now is that uncertainty reigns and the focus is already on the 2018 elections. Both sides of the aisle are petrified about what that means. Both parties in Congress want to run against Trump, but that may be politically unfeasible for the Republicans and potentially disastrous for the Democrats.

Neither party can afford to ignore their populist segments, but neither party knows how to deal with the Trump and Bernie movements either. As a result, both parties appear more out of touch and incompetent than ever before. The Republican leadership seems to be the most in disarray simply because they are actually leading and somehow have managed to lose every major issue to this point from health care to the budget.

Trump’s political missteps and war with the media have been devastating to advancing his agenda, but the political ineptitude of the first 100 days perhaps was not unexpected with the lack of political experience in the inner circle. I’m still betting that they learn the game and truly start shaking things up. If they don’t right the ship quickly, though, it will be a squandered opportunity.

The Republican leadership? They, too, seem unprepared to lead and that is far less excusable. If they don’t get their act together, they will pay dearly in 2018.

The Democrats, of course, have had the easy course of opposing everything and holding no power, yet scoring some wins on big issues. While it may seem like wins for the Democrats, whether or not that translates to electoral gains is another question. The disconnect, and discontent, among voters is growing and the beef industry is going to have to find a path forward in this precarious environment.

Then there is the cattle market. The experts are struggling to explain why the market has done what it has done, let alone predict what is to come. From a cattleman’s perspective, the result seems to be checking the board once or twice a day and focus on the management side of things because that is what we can affect.  

The political environment and the cattle market are more unpredictable than they have ever been, and while their impact on our bottom line is growing, there is more uncertainty. As the old saying goes, the trend is your friend, and the overall trend lines are moving in the right direction, at least for now. 

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