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Washington is no man’s land as power shifts to a new president

Washington DC

Every time we elect a new president, there’s this period where the president-elect hasn’t yet taken over and the current president’s power is waning. It is marked by all sorts of political posturing on both sides as they do the typical D.C dance where everyone is jockeying for power and leverage.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems borderline humorous, whether it be a red herring fight over miner’s health benefits or the competing opinions of U.S. intelligence agencies about Russia’s role and Russia’s intentions leading up to the last election. In D.C., it is all about politics as usual.

Will that change? It has been interesting to hear the debates on Trump’s initial appointees. They are despised by the far Left as they represent everything they oppose, successful businessmen and military experts primarily. And, of course, the few with governmental experience are a breach of Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp.”

One thing is for certain, however; this is as dramatic a shift as we have ever seen and that is bound to create some seismic reactions within the Beltway and the vast bureaucracies. 

I think the media continues to misread and make mistakes regarding their attempts to destroy the Trump presidency before it gets started. They see these business people as having a myriad of conflict of interest issues, and for the anti-capitalist crowd, these people represent what is wrong with America. But they do represent change.

Maybe it will be good to have people with real experiences outside of government now on the inside of government. The American people are fed up with all the career politicians who make their fortunes and live exclusively within the safe confines of government’s insulation from the real world.

What the media doesn’t seem to understand is that the American people understand that these career politicians have clear and tangible conflicts of interest – we feel they have not made decisions in the best interest of us or the country, but rather make nearly all their decisions based upon winning the next election, gaining control of the levers of power and making fortunes from maintaining a status quo. 

Donald Trump was elected because we didn’t want to return the career politicians who have been inside the Beltway so long that they don’t understand how to foster the American dream.

Conflicts of interest for a government job is a derogatory way of dealing with those who answer the call to lead and to serve. The media and political establishment may worship and support the political elite, who have no conflicts of interest except to themselves and to maintaining the status quo, but those are the very people that the American voter sent notice too.

They may be shocked that these men have run large for-profit entities, made fortunes and are experts in the fields that the agencies oversee and regulate. They are men who have put their lives on the line, served our country in the military and understand the challenges of implementing military solutions.

We want someone who has signed a paycheck or earned a paycheck from a for-profit entity. We want someone who has allegiances to something other than the political establishment and we want someone whose success doesn’t preclude them from putting America first but instead inspires them to do just that. 

Like our founding fathers, it is their conflicts of interest which enable them to put America first and not be beholding to the advancement of government power for government’s sake.

I was not initially a big Trump supporter, but I do have an unfailing belief in the American people, and as we grow closer, I think their collective wisdom was right once again. In the end, I really hope that a Trump presidency isn’t simply the lesser of two evils, but what we really need.

One thing for sure is that Trump’s campaign, and now his transition, has been consistent in letting us know this will not be business as usual. And that should be a good thing, right? If politicians, bureaucrats, the media and nearly every special interest group I can name are worried, then I’m thinking that just perhaps he is truly on to something.

The beef community is nervous about trade and the death of the TPP; grain producers about the energy subsidies and promised harder line with importing countries like Russia. Defense contractors’ stocks have been plummeting as costs are questioned and cost risk models are being floated, and the list goes on.

I certainly understand the TPP is a bonanza for agriculture, but also realize that it may not be so good for others. But perhaps Trump is truly unique in that he means what he says, and that he is pro-trade but simply will not tolerate one-sided deals.

Draining the swamp is rarely an easy process, and unwinding all the pro-government policies and replacing them with pro-American policies will not be easy because industries and business models have been constructed around them. No president in four, or even eight years will be able to reverse all the negative trends, but once started, others will follow.

As a footnote, much has been written about the demise of the Democratic Party as a national party and the fact that it dominates the coasts and even more specifically big cities. But the Republican Party faces much greater pressure; the politics of division along demographic lines still promises to minimize the Republican Party. In fact, the Republicans still face an almost insurmountable road via the electoral college, let alone the popular vote. 

Both parties, after this election, are faced with re-inventing themselves. The Democrats must make inroads in the flyover states and the Republicans must breach the hold the Democrats have in the large urban centers. Right now, it is safe to say that neither side seems to have a plan to do that. 

Perfect dad? I am not. Luckily, growing up on the ranch offsets my shortcomings

Working cattle

I think the only job tougher than being a dad is being a mom, but that isn’t a fair comparison, because moms are so much better prepared for the job.

I ran into an old friend in the airport the other day and as is usually the case, we got around to asking about each other’s family and kids. We are both in that stage of life where our kids are preparing to go to college and are spreading their wings. So, of course, we had to ask where they were going to school, what they were majoring in and what they were planning to do with their lives.

My friend said a couple of things that were insightful. He didn’t know if his kids had any desire to return to the operation. “They have seen the hours and the work, and all the anxiety that comes with it. I don’t think I did a great job of showing them the joy and fun associated with this life.” 

I could have said the same thing, and I understand his mixed emotions. One part wants his kids to return to continue the journey he has started, the other part just wants them to be happy and secretly wishes they would choose a more lucrative path.

For us as dads, the die is already cast. Just like my friend, we admit that we probably haven’t done the best job of showing our kids the fun and joy of agriculture, but all we really want now is for them to find their purpose and passion.

What he said next, though, was thought provoking. “The kids may not come back to the ranch, but the ranch gave them the foundation to spread their wings and succeed.”

More importantly, he confessed that while he may have failed at showing his kids the joy and opportunities with ranching, he had probably failed even more mightily at being the spiritual leader of his home and showing them how important their relationship with God is to having a meaningful life. 

Yet, he said ranching bailed him out. There is something about being immersed and surrounded by God’s creations that just leave you in awe. It’s hard to watch a sunrise while horseback in the middle of a mountain meadow, or to sit gazing up at the stars from the top of a hay stack with all the sounds of the birds and animals, and not simultaneously understand your insignificance while being in awe of His magnificence.

He went on to say that “Living on a ranch let my kids grow up with a sense of wonder in their hearts. They all have a personal relationship with God, in part because they have seen His greatness and felt His presence in the solitude of his creation. My kids may have turned out just as good, and be positioned to change the world for the better, if they had grown up in the city rather than the ranch, but I would have had to be a much better dad and leader than I was.”

I couldn’t help but agree with him. I think both of us would love to have one, two or all three of our kids want to return to the ranch, but as the conversation came to an end so we could catch our planes, we just agreed to pray that they find the passion and purpose that is theirs; that we might do a better job of showing them the awe that is associated with ranching and not just the struggles. And that we might be better spiritual leaders at home.

It’s amazing, but the love of a great mom and the power of this way of life can go a long way to cover up the mistakes of a dad, and for that we are truly grateful.

Release of GIPSA rule surprises beef industry

GIPSA has been reintroduced

“Cattlemen and women don’t appreciate Secretary Vilsack throwing a grenade in the building as he abandons it.”

That’s how Tracy Brunner, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, characterized the Dec. 14 release of USDA’s final rulemaking on the 2010 Grain Inspection, Packers a Stockyards Act. Brunner says the provisions in the final three-part rule are very similar to the 2010 proposed rules that industry groups have consistently voiced concern about and that Congress has repeatedly defunded because of the harm it would cause the industry.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mike Weaver, poultry grower and president of the Organization for Competitive Markets, said, “The Organization for Competitive Markets sees the GIPSA regulations as a step forward in protecting farmers against the imbalance of power which has been in the favor of the poultry companies, leaving contract poultry growers as mere serfs for some of the world's largest multi-national food corporations and industrial factory farm interests. We call on everyone to make comments and urge both the Obama and Trump administrations to finalize these rules."

In addition, Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said, “The Agriculture Department’s Farmer Fair Practice Rules take an important step toward leveling the playing field in the poultry industry by ensuring companies follow the law and treat farmers fairly, without disrupting beef and pork markets.”

Brunner, however, isn’t so sure. “The GIPSA rules are especially troubling to the cattle industry. As we have consistently stated, if adopted, this rulemaking will drastically limit the way producers can market cattle and open the flood gates to baseless litigation. In a time of down cattle markets, the last thing USDA needs to do is limit opportunity,” he said.

“USDA is going well beyond their statutory limitations, limiting marketing options for a product that America is demanding,” he continued. “If USDA were interested in real solutions rather than increased government regulations, they wouldn’t have rushed these rules out the door at the very close of the administration’s term, bypassing any input from industry.”

And even if the rules are finally adopted, it appears that Congress may well step in. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, said, “Unfortunately, USDA has chosen to ignore my persistent appeals over the last six years—along with the appeals of livestock producers—by finalizing rules that will limit the economic freedom of America’s farmers and ranchers. I’m deeply disappointed Secretary Vilsack and the Obama Administration are taking such action towards rural America as their terms come to an end and during the holidays.”

Likewise, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) voiced disappointment. “I am disappointed that the generally productive and non-partisan relationship I’ve developed with USDA over the past two years has culminated in a last-minute effort to push through a partisan trio of rules—even despite assurances that they would be tabled for more thorough and appropriate consideration by the incoming administration,” Conaway said.

“It’s particularly troubling given Congressional disapproval with the overreach of these costly rules dating back to their original proposal in 2010. I will make it a priority to roll back these, and other midnight regulations from the Obama Administration, as soon as Congress returns in January.”


Farm gate receipts sharply down in 2016; will feed costs follow?

December 15 Industry At A Glance Annual Farm Receipts

The end of November saw USDA releasing the agency’s updated financial forecasts. The USDA headline shouted “Farm Sector Weakness to Continue Into 2016.” Net cash farm income is expected to decline 14.6% in 2016 versus last year; that follows a 19.8% decline in 2015.   USDA further noted that 2016 net farm income is at the lowest mark since 2009 and the third consecutive annual decline since farm profits hit record highs in 2013.

With that, this week’s graph digs into several key commodities that are of likely interest to BEEF readers. The chart features annual farm gate receipts for cattle, corn, oil crops (comprised predominately of soybeans) and milk. Several highlights include:

  • Cattle receipts in 2016 are down over $11.5 billion versus 2015 and nearly $15 billion less than 2014.
  • Milk receipts are only $1.8 billion lower in 2016 compared with last year but over $15 billion lower than 2014.
  • Corn receipts are off nearly $2 billion against last year but over $8 billion softer versus 2014.
  • Last, oil crops (predominately soybeans) generated more dollars in 2016 than 2015 but cash receipts still remain $1.8 billion weaker against the 2014 mark.
  • In total, the four commodity receipts have slid over $40 billion in just two years.

Separately, up until 2007, receipts for cattle and calves exceeded the combined value of corn and oil crops. However, that balance reversed with the introduction of the ethanol mandate. The widest difference occurred in 2012 when corn and oil crops receipts exceed cattle by nearly $53 billion. However, better cattle prices and softer grain markets saw that advantage decline to just $5.5 billion in 2015. Cattle receipts will run approximately $20 billion behind corn and oils crops in 2016.

Where do you see these trends headed in the future? How will the farm sector adapt to less revenue being generated across most key commodities? What key differences are you experiencing and/or witnessing because of these realities? What impact might this have on diversified operations and subsequent investment in the beef industry’s infrastructure going forward? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

On becoming a (more) sustainable rancher

Management decisions in the cowcalf sector can alter the sustainability of the beef industry by impacting land usage water usage and greenhouse gas emissions Cattle producers need to be profitable to maintain their livelihoods but also need to sustain the environment they depend on for cattle production balancing these two requirements can be a struggleIn a recent study conducted at Washington State University management strategies such as reducing the length of the calving season resulted in a

A common question I often get is: What can I do to become a more sustainable rancher? With a follow-up question of: How do I learn sustainable grazing practices?

I’m encouraged by these questions since they show an increase in the awareness of the importance of sustainability, but also an increase toward actually learning and applying sustainable practices.

Although there is an increasing need for more practical field-based sustainable ranching training, there are some very good resources available.

My standard recommendation is to start by doing some basic background reading, assess current understanding, begin to apply principles, and engage in local and region sustainable conservation initiatives such as your conservation district, NRCS programs and others.

After you’ve developed a basic foundation, attend formal training. Lastly, I recommend directly engaging with a mentor and/or consultant who will be an on-the-ground coach focused on your ranch, and who can offer specific feedback.

Here are my recommended steps to begin the sustainable ranching journey:

  1. Read as much as you can from the following people: Burke Tiechert’s series of articles in BEEF and on; Alan Savory, Holistic Management; Jim Gerrish, Kicking the Hay Habit; Walt Davis, How Not to Go Broke Ranching; Dave Pratt, Ranching for Profit, and; Jim McGrann, SPA. There are others, but this is a good start.
  2. Attend holistic management workshops. Learning the basics of holistic management provides an important foundation to build upon. The Savory Institute and Holistic Management International are two organizations that can help a person find a workshop. Just as worthwhile is attending a Ranching for Profit school. The Ranching for Profit curriculum builds upon holistic management with a stronger focus on the business aspect of ranching.
  3. Attend a grazing school. Dallas Mount at the University of Wyoming has developed a very good grazing school, as well as a ranching practicum course. Both are very good, and highly recommended. The University of Idaho and the University of Missouri also have grazing schools. There are other grazing schools offered both privately and through Extension. The best include on-the-ground, in-the-field training.
  4.  Study the Sustainable Ranching Workbook developed by the Sustainable Rangeland Roundtable. The Ranch Assessment Guidebook is an excellent resource and reference tool that helps create a vision of what sustainable ranching looks like.
  5. Engage in soil conservation/watershed conservation district activities, as well as NRCS field days and workshops. These groups often conduct field days, seminars and other training. The ones I'm aware of are very good. Groups such as the Society for Range Management, the American Forage and Grassland Council, and the National Grazing Lands Coalition provide training and other events from time to time that provide good learning opportunities, and the opportunity to engage with a community of experts.
  6. Learn from successful ranchers by reading up on the Environmental Stewardship Award and the Leopold Award, both programs that highlight ranchers who have done excellent conservation work
  7. Once you’re ready to start applying the lessons learned from the above, I highly recommend using a consultant or mentor who can help you avoid common challenges and figure out how to apply sustainability practices on your specific ranch. There are several highly recommended experts who are able to fill this role.

This is a very quick and incomplete list. However, I hope this helps and at a minimum provides some places to start.

Bryan Weech is a consultant and adviser on sustainable agricultural projects. Contact him at

Watch for lice as winter sets in

Heather Smith Thomas Lice on cattle

As any rancher who has dealt with a lice outbreak in his herd knows, lice are largely a winter problem. “When lice populations are heavy enough to cause cattle to be visibly scratching, we know that the animals are not performing optimally, whether they are feeder cattle or pregnant cows about to calve and start lactating,” says Russ Daly, Extension Veterinarian with South Dakota State University.

“Other operations, such as purebred breeders, are also interested in the cosmetic effects of hair loss. These operations, whether they can actually see signs of lice or not, should consider a January or February treatment for lice, to knock populations down before the cattle get to the point of rubbing and itching,” he says.

Lice infest cattle all year, but numbers are usually low in summer because most of them are shed off in the spring with winter hair and don’t survive well in hot temperatures. Producers generally don’t need to treat if a few show up in late March or early April, because the population won’t grow at that late date.   Even on untreated cattle, lice numbers are dropping at a rapid rate by that time.

“Lice don’t survive very well in heat. If the cow is standing in bright sunlight in summer, the temperature on the skin may go up to 115 to 120 degrees F,” explains Doug Colwell, livestock parasitologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta. Lethal limit for adults and eggs is about 104 degrees F. “Adult lice are dying off and not reproducing, so the population crashes when weather warms up.”

Some animals, due to poor immune function or other factors, are more vulnerable to extensive lice populations, and transmit lice to the other cattle in the herd. “This is the old 80-20 rule; about 80% of the cattle don’t have lice and 20% do, for some reason. The carrier animals always have heavy loads, and general recommendation is to cull those,” says Colwell. Cattle with lice readily pass them to herdmates through direct contact, since cattle are social animals.

By Heather Smith Thomas

Meat Market Update | Mid-December plunge could pull cutout lower

Meat Market Update

The big seasonal rally on the Choice primal rib continues to pull the cutout higher but the round, chuck, and loin have not really helped the rally much because they have traded in a narrow level zone the past few months. The Choice primal rib normally takes a big plunge in mid-December and might have started that fall on December 14th because the daily Choice rib dropped from 391.00 to 372.00 in just that one day.


Vets liked, but is it enough?

A nationwide survey from BEEF and BEEF Vet shows the majority of beef producers believe they are getting adequate or better veterinary services.

It also implies some opportunities for improvements and perhaps for added profits.

There is still visible in this data a penchant to use veterinarians as problem solvers rather than predicament preventers. Here's an example: Although more than 36% of producers said their vets always adequately delve into causes of disease before prescribing a treatment, and almost 53% said their vets usually do so, less than 11% said they have worked with their veterinarian to develop a biosecurity plan.

Out of more than 900 survey respondents, only 94 claimed to have a biosecurity plan.

Further, only about 60% of beef producers say they usually develop a herd health plan with the advice of a veterinarian.

Therefore, planning prevention seems an area for growth.

Frequency or not

Only a little less than 10% said they never have a veterinarian come to their operations. A little less than 40% said the vet only comes out once or twice, and the rest said the vet is on their operation three times or more per year.

Also, beef producers view veterinarian pricing in a relatively positive light. Almost 38% said the prices they are charge are always fair, and 53% said veterinarian pricing is "usually fair."

Customer satisfaction is reasonable good, as 59% said they were very satisfied with veterinary services, 21% said they were somewhat satisfied, 16.5% said they were satisfied, and only 4% said they were not satisfied.

Management advice

About half of beef producers suggested they are open to getting management advice from veterinarians, but a little less likely to pay for that advice. Getting the cash register connected to these transactions appears to be a worthwhile goal.

When asked if, outside of direct herd health concerns, producers seek the advice of their general attending veterinarian in areas such as breeding/genetics, marketing, nutrition, beef quality or facilities design, about 45% said sometimes or often, while 55% said seldom or almost never. About 42% said they pay for this advice and about 58% said they do not or they believe it is hard to figure out pricing on such services.

Apparently, veterinarians are doing a good job of communication. Almost 96% of producers responded their veterinarian gives them clear and concise directions for treatment, which they and their employees can follow.

Shortage anxiety

Further, some claimed they can see potential shortages of large-animal veterinary services on the horizon. Some 67% said they currently have no local shortage, but 35% said they expect to in the long run and 17% said they expect to have problems soon. Almost 16% said they already have a shortage of care.

In part, this matters because 92% believe they clearly get better cattle care from a large-animal veterinarian who has some level of working background in livestock production.


In relation to the upcoming Veterinary Feed Directive guidelines, nearly half of producers report they have not yet established or do not know anything about a veterinary-client patient relationship (VCPR), a key requirement for veterinarians to "prescribe" a VFD for fed antimicrobials. There is no data to tell us whether this is a problem, as some operations may not need medicated feeds. Regionally, there are small differences, but it would be speculation to try to decipher.


Farm Progress America Dec. 5 2016

Max Armstrong talks about the role of the farmer in sharing agriculture's story. He points to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and its work to add new members. The organization has kicked off a three-month program to bring in new members.

Midwest Digest


A new study out shows what's killing us state by state, even down to the county. Cardiovascular disease deaths are highest in areas of the southern Mississippi Valley. Mental and substance abuse deaths happen most often in Kentucky. Liver disease kills people in the southwest and western states.

The loss of fertile topsoil from farm fields is economic problem for growers, not just societal problem. A Missouri researcher has found switchgrass improves soil quality and can be grown on farms that have lost fertile topsoil. 

On this very cold day in Chicago, Max enjoyed bowl of oatmeal and thought of the growers in western Canada. While prices of oatmeal have jumped almost 40% over the last three months, the price of the commodity is only a small portion of the cost of your bowl of oatmeal.