The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) summer business meeting recently took place in Reno, NV, providing an opportunity for representatives from throughout the nation to discuss issues affecting the beef industry.

Colin Woodall, NCBA CEO, said the summer meeting is about developing policy that dictates the direction of the organization and provides an opportunity to review the policy book to ensure policies reflect the organization’s priorities. Woodall noted that NCBA staff doesn’t take positions on issues – members make decisions. “It’s a grassroots focus to be able to allow producers to sit on committees, debate issues and vote on issues,” he said. “If [a policy] passes out of committee, it goes to the board. After that process, [policy] is used to advocate on behalf of members in D.C.”

A top issue is the upcoming Farm Bill, and NCBA is beginning work on that. “We need to make sure our priorities are reviewed and ready to go,” said Woodall. “We have to make sure we maintain funding for the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank, which was our big victory in the last Farm Bill. We need to focus on the conservation title and all the conservation programs like CRP and EQIP because those programs are used by cattle producers across the country.” He added that funding for such programs as well as land grant university funding benefits the entire beef industry.

Woodall explained that the beef Checkoff has been in place since its implementation in the 1985 Farm Bill. “There’s a lot of misinformation about the Checkoff,” he said. “A lot of people think NCBA is the Checkoff, and we’re not. We are a contractor to the beef Checkoff – one of nine contractors that compete for dollars to do programs on behalf of the Checkoff on programs such as the ‘Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner’ campaign and working with retailers. We are not only a contractor, we’re a big supporter of the Checkoff.”

When R-CALF USA filed a lawsuit challenging the Checkoff, NCBA and Beef Council partners and members decided it was worth the fight. “We received word from the Supreme Court at the end of June that they have denied R-CALF’s petition to hear that case,” said Woodall. “It’s a huge victory in protecting the Checkoff, but more importantly, it shows USDA has adequate oversight over this program to make sure every dollar is being spent with accordance and compliance with the act.”

Tanner Beymer, NCBA senior director of government affairs, elaborated on the organization’s grassroots policy and its impact on NCBA’s position on cattle markets. “Since 1898, we’ve had virtually the same policymaking process at NCBA,” said Beymer. “That has allowed our producers from across the country – stockers, cow/calf and feeders – to come together from different geographic areas to talk about these issues and arrive at a decision. Working groups have delved deep into policy resolutions and directives that guide our lobbying efforts in D.C.”

Beymer said currently, the biggest profitability barrier for producers is input costs as the cost of feed, fuel and fertilizer skyrocket. A modest uptick in calf and feeder prices has been helpful, but out-of-control input costs cut into profitability.

Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs for NCBA, said there’s a lot at stake with the upcoming Farm Bill and autumn elections. “Extreme drought and supply chain issues have continued to drag the industry down just as we’re seeing prices recover in some segments after the rough couple of years we’ve had,” he said, listing port and shipping container issues, rail challenges, driver shortages and trucking and transportation problems as ongoing issues. “We need feedback from producers across the country to make sure we have what we need to engage in conversations.”

Kent Bacus, NCBA’s senior director of international trade and market access, said 2022 has been a great year for exports, and that NCBA is capitalizing on strong foreign demand for U.S. beef. “When we see tight global supplies, there are opportunities for exports,” he said. “We’re able to capitalize on those demands, especially in countries like Japan, Korea and China, because we have good trade policies in place that give us access there. We’re trying to implement access into those countries and look forward to new opportunities.”

Bacus said the Biden Administration is taking a different approach to trade and prefers to engage in non-tariff issues. He added that NCBA will seek opportunities to remove more non-tariff barriers and capitalize more on strong global demand for U.S. beef in the Indo-Pacific region.

There are long-term advantages to trade agreements. “In 2022, we hit the 10-year anniversary with our trade agreement with Korea, Colombia and Panama,” said Bacus. “In each of those markets we faced massively high tariffs and have very restricted sales. Now we’re a growing source in a lot of those places. In Korea we faced a 40% tariff and faced other non-tariff barriers. Trade policies help remove those barriers.” He added that bidding wars in China, Korea and Japan will continue to grow as more consumers in those countries have access to U.S. beef.

“Southeast Asia is seeing tremendous growth in potential protein exports so we’re competing with other beef-producing countries but also with pork, chicken and other items,” said Bacus. “We see a lot of opportunity but there are still a lot of barriers in countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, so we want to continue to look for different trade policies that will help us open those markets.” He said food insecurity is a concern in that part of the world along with animal health issues such as foot-and-mouth disease, lumpy skin disease and African swine fever, making it difficult for some countries to produce sufficient domestically raised animal protein.

Regarding trade with the UK, Bacus said NCBA sees an opportunity to establish a strong bilateral trade relationship with one of our strongest allies. “When it comes to trading with our closest friends, it seems to be more difficult,” he said. “We encouraged the Trump Administration to engage in bilateral trade agreement negotiations with the UK now that they’re no longer part of the EU, but the Biden Administration has walked that back.”

Bacus mentioned the ongoing need to discuss topics with the UK, such as U.S. cattle industry production practices. He said there has been a lot of misinformation over the years and NCBA is working to correct that. Bacus believes British leaders would be receptive to comparing the BQA program and the U.S. commitment to sustainable beef production with the UK’s Red Tractor program for production standards.

“We’re going to continue to engage into fall and next year and hopefully with a change in leadership in the British government, that may renew some interest in our own government to re-engage,” said Bacus.

by Sally Colby