by Steve Wagner
Colin Woodall is the senior vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “In politics, especially in our industry, when you look at the political perspective, we are always asking ourselves ‘Are we better off today than we were a year ago?’” Woodall’s answer was an affirmation that he made before the 49th annual Cattle Feeder’s Day in Lancaster, PA.
Woodall cited Sonny Perdue as getting credit for many of the improvements in the past year. “Sonny is one of us,” he said. “He knows what we’re up against. He has owned livestock. He made a living in agriculture. To have him sitting at USDA making decisions on our behalf has also been a welcome relief.”
“For the first time — since Trump has been president — the United States Congress was actually able to get comprehensive tax reform passed,” said Woodall. “That was a big priority for NCBA in 2017; a heavy lift for Congress. For those of us in agriculture it was a tremendous victory.”
Some of the initial efforts under tax reform had Congress taking away the farmer’s ability to use cash accounting. “Had you lost that ability,” Woodall speculated, “and had to transfer to accrual accounting, it would have had a major impact on your accounting system. We were able to preserve your use of cash accounting. In fact, we were able to expand it so more people in agriculture can also use cash accounting.” Woodall also noted that it was possible to preserve section 1031, Lifetime Exchange Program, a system where you can exchange land for other land somewhere else without tax liability.
“The thing we are most proud of has to do with the death tax. Though for years NCBA has been trying to eliminate this tax, we didn’t quite get that done.” Woodall said, “We have exemption amounts now that will cover everybody in this room and probably 95 percent of agriculture around the country.” Those exemptions have been doubled to over 10 million dollars per person and 20 million dollars per couple. “More importantly, we have been able to tie that to inflation, so it will grow over the years.” The problem with this equation is that the new tax law expires in 10 years, at which time everything reverts to 2017 pre-tax law conditions.
Woodall then addressed foot-and-mouth disease utilizing a slide. “This is from the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom,” Woodall said. “This is our focus with the Farm Bill — a bill which is likely to start in the next few weeks in the House Market and Agriculture Committee. We have to be prepared for the introduction of Foot-and-Mouth Disease, something we haven’t had since 1949. It is also a disease that we know is on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) list of agents for terrorism.” DHS also said they know that Al-Qaida and other similar groups have foot-and-mouth biological capabilities.
Another issue is people going overseas, especially a lot of agriculture groups who go on tours. When they return, they are supposed to declare if they have been to farms or ranches. Not everybody does that, thereby becoming intentional or unintentional vectors. “Right now, what little vaccine we have at the facility in Plum Island, NY (which has already been slated for shut-down) — a significant amount of that has expired,” said Woodall. A top priority in the Farm Bill is expected to be a certainty that there is enough vaccine that is ready to go.
Tongue in Japan is worth anywhere from $20 to $50 a pound. But we have to have trade in order to take advantage of that price. It isn’t just tongue, Woodall stressed. “It is any number of offal that we just don’t eat here in the United States. Americans are not going to their local grocery store to pick up a heart or a kidney. Japan and Mexico want that.”
To take advantage of this demand, Woodall said the U.S. must drop down its trade barriers. “We have been growing our domestic herd for years. A lot of that beef has already come to market and a lot more will come to market in 2018. All this beef coming to market has to go somewhere. If supply and demand kicks in and we see a depression in prices, that’s something we don’t want. To keep that from happening, we’ve got to move that product overseas.” That is why everything is being done to protect the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“This is a ‘Super Fund’ site,” said Woodall, as a slide showed an aerial photograph of sludge and waste, including radically discolored water. “The Super Fund was put in place to address sites where major manufacturing is done whether its oil refining, chemical manufacturing or nuclear facilities.” Super Fund identifies locations where contamination issues prevail. Woodall said that Super Fund finds ways to mitigate those situations, and also finds ways to fix them.
Woodall then showed another slide — a cow urinating in a meadow that was not a Super Fund site. “Yet the EPA has decided that maybe it is [a Superfund Site] because coming out of that waste stream is ammonia.” Ammonia is one of the substances on the EPA’s list for Super Fund sites. Woodall said that NCBA is working diligently with EPA to keep you from having to report ammonia emissions.
Woodall reached a point talking about who the bad guys are and how they affect the cattle industry. He first cited the magazine “Consumer Reports”. “What Americans don’t know,” said Woodall, “is that ‘Consumer Reports’ is run by the Consumer’s Union, and they are not our friends. As a matter of fact, the Consumer’s Union has a partnership with Wayne Pacelle, the former president of the Humane Society of the United States.” Pacelle resigned at the beginning of February in response to allegations of sexual misdoings. “Do you know who supports Waters of the United States (WOTUS)? Do you know who supports overall environmental regulation in our industry? HSUS.” Woodall said we have to ask ourselves why? According to Woodall, they realize that they aren’t going to pass laws and legislation that stop people from eating meat, or stop cattlemen from producing meat. However, regulations can be passed to make it harder for the cattle industry. “That’s what they’re trying to achieve, and Wayne Pacelle was leading it.”
Woodall said NCBA is doing everything they can to expose HSUS, and their alliances, by hitting them in the pocketbook. “That’s how you hurt these people,” he said. “Take their money away.” He then listed some other organizations associated with HSUS: the ASPCA, PETA, Johns Hopkins, Greenpeace, the Center for Food Safety, Compassion over Killing, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.