Brian Schweitzer teams up with United Stockgrowers of America & Ranchers-Cattlemen Legal Action Fund
Let Schweitzer-ism out of the barn in 2008. It's time. Check that, it's past time.
September 14, 2005
Cattlemen's Group Wrangles With Its Former Allies
By JIM ROBBIN
BILLINGS, Mont., Sept. 10- In a cramped office sandwiched between cattle auction yards and the looming white tanks of an oil refinery is the headquarters of a growing cowboy rebellion against federal trade policies and the large beef-packing companies they once regarded as allies.
It is the office of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, or R-Calf USA, an organization of ranchers founded in 1999 that says its membership has doubled to 18,000 in the last year.
The organization has found an ally in Montana's governor, a former rancher who last month called the Agriculture Department "stooges" of the meatpacking industry. And it has drawn the ire of a rival beef group and Canadian ranchers by managing to keep the border closed to Canadian cattle for several months this year.
Staking its ground against the Bush administration and meatpackers, who depend on a steady supply of cattle, R-Calf contends that the threat of mad cow disease is still too great to allow Canadian cattle into the United States.
"Our competitive advantage is we produce the best beef under the best conditions," said Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-Calf. The Department of Agriculture, Mr. Bullard said, was "attempting to compromise those very health and safety standards" by allowing the import of Canadian cattle.
For years, most cattle producers were part of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, based in Colorado, whose members include large packers and cattle feeding operations.
But issues like the North American Free Trade Act, the recent Central America Free Trade Act, mad cow disease and mandatory country of origin labeling have fenced off segments of the industry. Producers have found themselves on the other side of many of these issues from packing houses like IBP and Tyson.
"Anything we've brought forward to help U.S. cattle producers be more competitive, N.C.B.A. has been opposed," said Leo McDonnell, the president and founder of R-Calf, who breeds bulls near Columbus, Mont. "As great as the global market is, we're a dying industry."
An obituary may be premature, but the number of cattle has fallen, to 104 million this year from 125 million in 1981, and producers declined to 989,000 in 2004 from 1.3 million in 1989, according to Agriculture Department statistics.
Some industry observers are surprised by the growth of R-Calf. If anything, ranchers are seen as independent types not quick to join organizations. But the group speaks the same language as its members and is narrowly focused on ranchers' concerns.
"R-Calf is run by people who look and talk like cowboys," said Mikkel Pates, a reporter for Agweek in Fargo, N.D., who has written about the organization. "And they are."
...The ranchers' rebellion has received support from Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, a Democrat who has cultivated a populist streak. He says the large meatpackers have grown too powerful.
"They control not only the market, but the regulatory agencies," Mr. Schweitzer said.
"It's a revolving door," he said...
For the rest of the article, go here.