NCBA Incoming President Meets with Montana Farmers and Ranchers
LEWISTOWN, MONT. - More than 500 Montana farmers and ranchers gathered at the Lewistown fairgrounds Thursday, January 26, to hear Mike John discuss the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s position on topics ranging from trade to death tax to country-of-origin labeling. John will assume his one-year term as NCBA president this week at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention in Denver, Colo. The panel, moderated by Lewistown Livestock Auction owner Lyle Allen, also included Chuck Kiker, president of R-CALF USA.
John is part owner and manager of John Ranch, Inc., a retained ownership cow-calf operation in his hometown of Huntsville, Mo. He also serves as director of MFA Health Track Beef Alliance, a source and process verification program that helps cow-calf producers nationwide maximize the value for their calves and breeding stock through verification programs.
John opened his remarks by sharing with the audience the tenants that drive NCBA’s member-driven policy. He said NCBA’s members believe in:
- Limited government
- Individual’s freedom to choose his own business model
- Free but fair trade
- Meeting or exceeding consumer expectations
- Individual’s right to manage land and resources as he sees fit
John explained NCBA is simply “an infrastructure that allows cow-calf producers to voice their opinion.” He challenged producers in the room to become a member and take part in shaping NCBA’s policy.
A reflection of its membership and its dues structure, NCBA board majority is owned by cow-calf producers from around the country. Cow-calf producers comprise slightly more than 60 percent of the board, with feeders comprising 30 percent. Less than 10 percent of the board seats are divided among dairy and veal operators, auction market owners, allied industry members, packers and processors, and retail and foodservice. NCBA added 4,000 first-time members in 2005, and the greatest growth came from cow-calf producers.
John has been a member of NCBA since 1980 and has served on the organization’s food policy, ag policy and membership committees. He also led the organization’s Animal ID Commission before the announcement this month that management of this industry-led initiative has been turned over to a non-profit consortium of livestock producers called the U.S. Animal Identification Organization.
“NCBA’s policy on animal identification does not call for a mandatory system. Our members directed us to initiate private industry management of an animal database for animal health surveillance,” said John.
In 2004, NCBA’s members expressed concerns that a government-run program would jeopardize the confidentiality of their private data and make them unfairly liable for issues beyond animal health. So they wrote policy that instructed their organization to create a database managed by the private sector that would benefit producers, support state-by-state decisions, recognize the role of brands and inspection requirements and fulfill the needs of the U.S. Animal Identification System.
The Montana audience asked several questions about mandatory country-of-origin labeling. John explained NCBA supports voluntary country-of-origin labeling and that the current law is flawed and would put American producers at a competitive disadvantage because the law exempts poultry as well as foodservice and cooked beef, which is the principal channel for imported product.
“NCBA supports producers’ right to choose a program if you can make money doing so,” said John. “I participate in a program right now that is origin and source verified.”
John explained that once country-of-origin is mandated by the government, it becomes a commodity label that doesn’t bring additional value, but instead adds cost that will inevitably be levied on the producer by the packer.
On issues from eminent domain to estate taxes, John described NCBA’s long-running and ongoing battle to eliminate these burdens.
“Eliminating the estate tax has been a priority for a long, long time. We’ve been working very hard on that, and I would dearly love to have the dollars back that my family has spent on estate planning and put it back into agriculture and the community,” said John.
In 2005, NCBA led efforts to ensure the U.S. House voted 272-162 to permanently repeal the Death Tax. NCBA will continue to urge Senate action in 2006.
Demonstrating that court actions often have negative consequences for the cattle industry, John said about eminent domain, “The Supreme Court dealt a blow to ranch families. Each state is going to have to pass laws to prevent the takings from happening. If there is a silver lining in this travesty, it is that NCBA is working with its state partners to get it done at the state level.”
As an example, the Colorado State Senate just passed eminent domain protections last week, and passage is expected in the House of Representatives as well.
John closed by encouraging the audience to join NCBA and “see for yourself” what NCBA is about.
“I would not be here today if I represented packers and feeders. I am a cow-calf producer,” said John. “I cannot change the fact that NCBA is an enormously effective organization, and I’m not interested in doing that. I am only interested in making sure this industry survives for my sons, and my son’s sons, or my daughter, which may more likely be the case.”