Along the Trail

03-13-98 ยท Dan Green, Editor

Rule or ruin.

My way or the highway.

If I don't get my way, I'll take my baseball bat and go home.

All these well-worn phrases come to mind as I read about the refusal of the officers of the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) to accept the invitation of the officers of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) to meet and discuss ways of avoiding a petition drive and vote on the $1 checkoff.

This column has acknowledged before that there were wrongs done to LMA in recent years by NCBA and its predecessors in the administration of the checkoff.

That's beyond question.

However, its excessive to bring down the whole beef industry, or at least threaten to, to settle a few old scores.

Even Bill Clinton called off the bombers so Kofi Annan could meet with Saddam Hussein.

A face-to-face LMA-NCBA meeting is the very least cattlemen should expect before jumping into the fray by signing checkoff vote petitions.

LMA's petulant, child-like refusal to at least discuss the situation calls their motives in seeking a new vote on the checkoff into serious question.

If may well be, in fact, that LMA is ultimate loser in this whole charade. The most they can gain would probably come at the negotiating table.

The latest poll of cattle-men's attitudes toward the checkoff shows a 70 percent favorable view toward the checkoff and its program.

This means it would probably be re-authorized in a new vote. It would cost a lot of time and money, and leave us in the same place we are today.

Except that LMA would have a serious black eye for causing major amounts of effort and money to be expended on a fruitless checkoff vote.

Whether the vote would even be held, or held on terms favorable to LMA, is open to serious doubt.

It is strictly up to USDA to approve the wording of petitions, the sufficiency of signatures, how and when a vote would be conducted, etc.

USDA is a highly political organization, subject to the pressure of lobbyists and the Congress who approves its funding. NCBA is the cattle group with the big Washington organization and the clout in the halls of Congress and the federal agencies.

LMA isn't.

This is to say nothing of court action to block any vote USDA might ultimately organize. There are plenty of cattlemen and others around to go to whatever length necessary to maintain the status quo.

If a new checkoff vote is finally set, it will be on terms favorable to leaving things like they are and NCBA has a lot more money and clout to win such a referendum than LMA does.

In short, LMA's best bet is to win what they can now at the bargaining table, and avoid an all-out war.

They'd probably lose, in both actual votes and public relations.

Some winter moisture is coming, finally, to the areas we talked to this week:
Labo Brisco

Gonzales Commission Co.

Gonzales, Texas

Cattle numbers in this area are normal. The weights are good and we have good grass. So far its been a wonderful winter. There is a great spring outlook. We missed the last El Nino rain, so we've dried out about right. Ranchers here are slow to replace herds cut down during the recent drought years. They are holding back heifers, but are rebuilding gradually. Feeder cattle prices are strong, but are bound to come down if the fat cattle market doesn't strengthen.

John Gross

Farmers State Bank

Pine Bluffs, Wyoming

The last two snows pelted us good, along with the high winds. We still have snow on the ground. We were dry before those, although the grass and wheat were looking good. We're about one-third calved out. I've heard of no disasters so far. There is hay for sale in this area, as we haven't needed it in the mild winter. The fat cattle thing is still tough. We have people who retained ownership on their calves that are $4 from breaking even on cattle they have in the lot. Those who sold their cattle as yearlings last year made money, so its tough on those holding them now.

Harold Simmes

Western Livestock Auction

Great Falls, Montana

We've had a mild winter. All of January and February saw above-normal temperatures, with snow only in the last 10 days. We're about half done calving and its gone real well. There's not been much hay fed, so there is a lot for sale at $75-$80 a ton. There's just a few feeder cattle through the market each week, as most calves and yearlings are sold. Butcher cow sales are steady, with no extraordinary numbers of replacement females being held back. In fact, those that had held heifers earlier that had a good gain sold them. Its fairly dry and we could use some more moisture.

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