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Articles from 2009 In July

The Livestock Production Battlefield Is Changing

A Missouri couple this week was awarded $1.1 million in a lawsuit settlement that was based on problems caused by a nearby hog farm. The hog barns were erected less than a quarter mile from the plaintiffs’ home and one of the six barns was erected without a construction permit, thus violating the Missouri Department of Natural Resources regulations. The farm had also operated for six years without an operating permit from the department.

There are numerous takeaway messages from this ruling; in general, few are positive for agriculture. The first message is that it appears the hog farm violated numerous regulations and one can neither be surprised nor disappointed in the fact they must face the music for failing to do things properly.

The lawsuit only covers losses up to the point of the settlement, which means additional damages could be assessed in the future. That effectively will put the hog farm out of business.

Needless to say, the $1.1-million settlement probably has attracted the attention of every trial lawyer in America, and the expectation is that these types of suits will now escalate substantially.

The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) was quick to issue a statement condemning corporate farming and trumpeting the result of the case as being a good thing for rural communities and smaller farmers. While few would condone the activities of this hog farm, the result of this legal action likely signals a new turn in tactics for the anti-meat crowd that should concern anyone with an interest in property rights.

Groups aligned against agriculture have learned that they can’t succeed legislatively against informed lawmakers. Thus, they turned to mounting ballot initiatives where creative slogans, good wordsmithing and a lot of dollars are able to accomplish what politicking legislators could not; a case in point is California's Proposition 2.

But such public campaigns are expensive options, even for these well-funded groups, with success largely limited to states with large urban populations that don’t have a strong connection to agriculture – the type of audience most likely to buy into anti-corporate, populist, and animal welfare/environmental rhetoric.

But taking the issue to the courts moves the battle to ground even more favorable to these groups. In the venue of the courts, these groups' huge advantage in funding is magnified still further. In addition, there is no need to drive public opinion to their side.

At first blush this perhaps doesn’t make a lot of sense, but tort lawyers have long known that such cases don’t necessarily revolve around the facts as much as finding sympathetic jurors. And in this arena, even losing can be a victory, because even waging a successful defense can be financially devastating to the defendants in the case.

For a long time, it was assumed that agriculture would be immune from these legal tactics because the pockets weren’t deep enough to make it worth a crusading lawyer’s time, but that’s changed. Similar to the U.S. medical profession where doctors and hospitals were forced to buy massive insurance policies, which in turn made them more attractive targets, livestock operations are today purchasing insurance policies to the point that even small operations might be capable of paying $1 million or more in settlements.

This is an issue that goes beyond rising insurance rates; it’s being referred to as the Sarah Palin model. It doesn’t matter if you win the battles, constant lawsuits can simply destroy one’s viability even if you win.

Wayne Pacelle, HSUS boss, was quick to jump out on his blog about this ruling. Pacelle’s twisted logic about how his organization isn’t against rural America but rather factory farming would likely appeal to just about anyone, but HSUS’s record and actions run deeply contrary the group’s claims.

As an industry we must stop giving our opponents the occasional ammunition to shoot us with, and we had better begin preparing for what promises to be some costly legal battles.

The County Fair Argument

I received an email last week from a reader who was deeply distraught about my musings over the county fair that seemingly pop up in my writings this time of year. He made an eloquent case about how the livestock projects were not representative of real world economics, that there was too much emphasis on winning, and that far too many kids are scarred for life because of the pressure created by competition that is largely stacked in favor of money and families who for one reason or another have an unfair competitive advantage. He also argued that teamwork, not individual successes, are the way to measure victories.

I suppose, like anything, there is a dark side. It may be too simplistic of a world view but I suppose any system that declares victors by definition also creates losers. If a red ribbon on clothing construction or a failure to place in sheep showmanship is a life-changing negative event, then I have doubts about how those individuals might fare anyway.

I’m certainly willing to admit that there are probably some downsides to the 4-H youth program, but it has been a defining and positive experience for our family. I will concede that next week, I will probably get angry with a kid that is more interested in playing with his friends than mucking out a stall. I will probably feel a little too much pride living vicariously through my kids with any small success that might achieve or twinge of hurt in watching a defeat, but when we all sit down under a shade tree eating a funnel cake and drinking a lemonade, and look out at the kids that participate in this program, and the feeling of community that is felt at the fair, I will be hard pressed to think of anywhere I’d rather be.

The youth programs in this industry may not be perfect, but I sure hope I’m taking them in as a grandparent in 30 years or so from today.

Beef Trade News Continues In Doldrums

CME live-cattle futures were on the defensive on Wednesday with the nearby August contract down 98 points and all other contracts posting declines from the previous day. Live-cattle futures have been struggling to find some direction for some time. Feedlot inventories are tight but demand remains lackluster. Also weighing on cattle prices is the steady decline in grain prices and a more bearish outlook for feed costs in the short to medium term.

The U.S. corn crop may be behind in terms of its maturity but overall conditions are quite good and above year-ago levels. The latest USDA report showed that 70% of the current corn crop is in Good or Excellent condition, compared to 60% for the comparable week a year ago.

As for beef demand, it remains a popular, but also a bit depressing topic. Even the Wall Street Journal lamented/rejoiced at the emergence of high-value cuts at retail, pointing out that USDA Prime beef was showing up at Costco and other retail establishments.

But is it really “prime time for steak lovers,” as the article suggests? After all, what a steak lover should really appreciate is not just a cheap steak at the retail counter today but rather a steady supply of high-quality steaks for years to come. With current beef prices and negative returns, that future supply will likely keep getting smaller and smaller. So much for prime time.

Another factor negatively impacting demand and the outlook for the beef market this fall is the poor performance of U.S. beef exports in late June and early July. The USDA weekly export sales report provides a more up-to-date view on this topic although the data this year has not matched quite well with the monthly numbers reported by the Economic Research Service. According to the latest update, U.S. exports of fresh or frozen beef cuts for the week ending July 16 were 8,400 metric tons (mt) on a shipped weight basis, some 23% lower than a year ago.

In part this is due to very disappointing sales to South Korea. Exports to that market boomed last fall as Korean authorities finally opened the way for U.S. beef shipments to that market.

But after a three-month surge, averaging about 3,000 mt/week, beef shipments to that market have declined; for the week ending July 16, they were just 500 mt. That U.S. beef exports remained generally flat despite a notably lower U.S. dollar in the second quarter also is disappointing.

Mexico remains the largest market for U.S. beef and shipments for the week ending July 16 were just 2,800 mt, some 43% lower than a year ago. In the last six weeks, beef exports to Mexico have been on average 28% lower than a year ago.
-- CME Group Daily Livestock Report

MSN Says Farming is a Heroic Career

img_2345.JPGHere is a good helping of positive media coverage for farmers and ranchers this week. In a recent article at MSN Careers, a study was conducted to identify the top ten careers people consider the most notable and prestigious. Ranchers were listed at number eight and were joined by firefighters, scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers, military officers, police officers, religious leaders and engineers. Too often, the American public is mislead against farmers and ranchers, and often, they don't trust our dedication to animal care and environmental stewardship while producing a safe and wholesome product to feed the world. Yet, this study proves that we still have the support of many consumers, and maybe the general public does trust and support the good old American farmer and rancher, after all!

The Ups and Downs of Respected Careers by Anthony Balderrama, writer

Ultimately we all want to spend our days doing what we're good at. Yet, we still hold certain professions in higher regard than others. Some jobs receive our collective admiration. Maybe it's because we know they're not easy careers to have and we wouldn't be able to wake up one day and decide to do it. Harris Interactive* conducts an annual survey to determine occupations people consider the most prestigious, and its latest results prove that money and fame don't matter much when it comes to prestige. Based on the results, careers where serving other people is the main objective came in far ahead of jobs associated with big paychecks and publicity.

8. Farmers

Why it's prestigious: Farmers are an oft-forgotten segment of society, yet we rely on them for food and materials we use. Without farming, we'd be a much different (and far hungrier) society. Why it's not for everyone: The physical labor alone is enough to turn most people off. Plus, they don't have 9-to-5 schedules and their income often depends on the whims of Mother Nature, seeing as bad weather can adversely affect crops. Income: $30,074 (for ranch farmers)

BEEF Daily Quick Fact: On average, every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, around $6 million in U.S. agricultural products--grains, oilseeds, cotton, meats, vegetables, snack foods, etc., will be consigned for shipment for export to foreign markets.

2009 Yellow Alliance Pages

2009 Yellow Alliance Pages

Sponsored by Elanco Animal Health

2009 marks BEEF magazine’s 12th annual listing of industry alliances. In this special section, 34 programs are detailed – categorized by consumer-based programs, where the focus is on finding, feeding and marketing cattle according to predefined consumer product specifications; or calf-based programs, where calves are procured to fit specific value requirements. The listings include contact information, history, specifications for each of these top, value-based marketing programs.

View the 2009 Alliance Yellow Pages HERE (.pdf)


Simeks Honored for Generous Support of Angus Foundation

Philanthropists, visionaries, selfless, and dedicated. Four words that easily describe Ron and Myki Simek, Canyon Creek Angus LLC, Genoa, Nev., and Cody, Wyo., and their innumerable acts of generosity. Their understanding of the National Junior Angus Association (NJAA) and its significance to the future of the beef industry is a driving factor behind their monumental donations to the Angus Foundation.

“Ron and Myki are two individuals who are truly unselfish in character. Their support of the junior association through donations to the Angus Foundation, hosting the junior board at their Cody, Wyoming, ranch, and their encouragement of junior programs are examples of their sincere efforts to better the NJAA and the Angus breed,” comments Mallory Trosper, chair of the NJAA Board.

To honor their generosity to the American Angus Association® and the NJAA, Ron and Myki Simek were inducted into the Honorary Angus Foundation at the National Junior Angus Show (NJAS), July 19-25 in Perry, Ga.

Each year the NJAA selects exceptional supporters of the Angus industry to join the Honorary Angus Foundation. The inductees possess a profound dedication to Angus youth and serve as strong supporters of the NJAA.

“You don’t meet many people in the world who are willing to do what Ron and Myki have done for this Association. The Simeks are a couple that doesn’t hold back. They put forth 110% in everything they do,” says Trey Davis, the Foundation director for the NJAA board.

While Simeks are newcomers to the Angus breed, they are not strangers to the cattle business or the support required to foster future industry leaders.

Since Canyon Creek Angus LLC entered the industry in 1992, the Simeks have made significant financial contributions to the Angus Foundation, which directs its funds to youth, education, and research. Their most notable contributions have been as repeat purchasers of the Angus Foundation Heifer package, in 2006 and 2009.

The Angus Foundation Heifer program was designed in 1980 as a fundraiser for the NJAA and American Angus Association. Sold annually at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, the Foundation Heifer program has been a huge success.

Ron and Myki Simek astounded everyone in 2006, as they set a record purchasing the Foundation Heifer for $250,000. Their charity continued in 2009 with their second purchase for $92,500.

“The NJAA and its junior board of directors are truly grateful to have individuals like the Simeks involved in the Angus breed. Simply saying thank you is insufficient for their endless acts of generosity. Ron and Myki – you have made an impact larger than you may ever know,” Trosper states.

Simeks are an example of the character and determination of the many families within the American Angus Association. Their inspiring generosity and dedication is making an impact on the NJAA in immeasurable ways.

NEW Beef Daily Summer Photography Contest!

img_1959.JPG Hey, you! Yes, you! Calling all Bovine photos! It's time to enter another BEEF Daily Summer Contest. Two Western Art Prints will be given away for the best cattle photos entered. You know the drill: simply email your photo, description and mailing address to [email protected] for your chance to win one truly spectacular Western Art Print from our collection. Contest ends at noon on Wednesday, August 19, 2009. So, head out to your pastures and start shooting! Don't miss your chance to win!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Contest open to legal residents of 50 United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, send in a cattle photo with description, along with mailing address to: [email protected] All entries must be received by Wednesday, August 19, 2009. Void outside of the 50 United States and District of Columbia and where prohibited by law. For the Full Rules, link here.

To view previous winners of the first photography contest, link here. See the full rules for complete details.

BEEF Daily Quick Fact: A recent survey of America's young farmers and ranchers revealed that 97.2 percent planned to farm and ranch for life. And 90 percent said they would like their children to follow in their footsteps. This provides strong incentive for today's farmers and ranchers to protect and preserve he natural resources on their property. Not only is the land and its resources a farmer's lifeblood today, it represents the future for his family and its business.

Beef Ambassadors Solid Investment for Future

img_2367.JPGI wouldn't be where I am today without the help of the National Beef Ambassador Program. I got my start in 1998 when I was 10 years old. I entered the South Dakota Jr. Beef Ambassador Contest with my speech, "Wandering and Wondering About Beef," a speech that showed consumers how to select and prepare the correct cut of beef for any occasion. I couldn't wait to be old enough to be a senior contestant. I dreamed of becoming a South Dakota and National Beef Ambassador, so I could have the opportunity to travel the country and speak with consumers and media representatives about the benefits of beef in the diet and about the ranchers that work hard to produce a safe, healthy nutritious protein. As my dreams became reality, I wasn't yet aware that the program would be a launching pad for my career in agriculture. Over the weekend, I helped judge and select the new representatives for South Dakota at the South Dakota Summer Spotlight in Huron, S.D. and I want to take this opportunity to introduce our newest beef ambassador!

calli.jpgCongratulations to Calli Pritchard, the new 2010 South Dakota Beef Ambassador. She will be representing our state at the 2010 National Beef Ambassador Contest in Fort Smith, AR this October. Pritchard will be a freshman at South Dakota State University this fall, and she is excited about her year of service on behalf of the beef industry. Listen to her fresh take on agriculture today. To learn more about the National Beef Ambassador Program, to donate to support the program or to get a young person involved in your home state, link here.

BEEF Daily Quick Fact: Did you know the ambassadors have launched a brand new blog? Check it out here to follow their activities around the country!

Alert: Help Block Animal Rightist Regulatory Czar

john-cornyn-on-mtp.jpgIt's time for us to take immediate action, cattle industry professionals. I was passed along this information from the U.S. Sportsmen Alert Network, and this issue needs your immediate attention. Senator John Cornyn (R- TX) has blocked President Obama’s choice for a powerful regulatory position in the White House because of the nominee’s support for animal rights. He’s done his part, now it's time for us to do ours. Your support is needed to make sure the block, known technically as a “hold,” stays in place.

sunstein.gifCass Sunstein, the president’s pick to head the powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), has been an advocate for the animal rights movement and is an anti-hunter. As a part of the federal budget office, OIRA has extensive authority to block rules, including those that protect hunting and conservation. Sunstein claims that, “we might ban hunting altogether, at least if it’s sole purpose is human recreation.” He also supports allowing lawsuits on behalf of animals, a right currently only extended to human beings. That is why it is crucial that the block remains in place.

Take Action! Producers nationwide should contact their U.S. senators and ask them to support Sen. Cornyn’s hold on Sunstein. Let them know that you are deeply concerned by Sunstein’s radical statements about animal rights. Ask your Senator to join Senator Cornyn by blocking this appointment.

BEEF Daily Quick Fact: Farming is a family affair according the Economic Research Service. It found that 99 percent of U.S. farms in 2003 were family farms. The typical herd size averages 40 head of cattle, but herds with more than 100 head of cattle produce most of beef in the United States. (Source: Beef From Pasture to Plate)