No, it wasn't a football game that drew over 1,600 people to Fort Collins, Colorado last Friday, August 27. It was an historic workshop, hosted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, examining competition in the livestock sector as well as market consolidation and antitrust in the meatpacking industry.
Chris Petersen, Iowa Farmers Union President and hog farmer from Clear Lake, Iowa, got the biggest round of applause of the morning, perhaps the entire day, when Secretary Vilsack asked what could be done to help the next generation of family farmers and ranchers get started in livestock production. "If you want to create opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers, they need access to a market, which means you need to ban packers from owning livestock," replied Petersen.
Standing up to industry and stopping the headlong rush toward concentration and vertical integration in livestock production and packing is a long row to hoe, but it's crucial to revitalizing family farms and ranches across rural America. That was, perhaps, the clearest message that the economists, cattle-feeders, farmers and ranchers made, time and again, throughout the entire day.
USDA has written a strong rule that will improve enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and challenge the price discrimination against family farmers and ranchers that has driven tens of thousands of them out of the livestock business. If General Holder and Secretary Vilsack continue to take up that challenge, family farmers, ranchers and rural communities will stand with them.
The Center for Rural Affairs was established in 1973 by rural Nebraskans concerned about family farms and rural communities, and we work to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities.