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Farmers and ranchers excited about new action plan to help create a more competitive market


GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Farmers and ranchers got some good news at the start of 2022 after the white house released a plan to create a fairer, more competitive, and more resilient meat and poultry supply chain.

We spoke with Montana Farmers Union and break down what farmers and ranchers are getting paid and how this is aiming to change that.

“The beef prices in the grocery store started going up and the producers, the cattle ranchers, the feeders, were getting paid less. These four corporate monopolies were price gouging the consumers and the producers," said Walter Schweitzer, president of Montana Farmers Union.

Right now, there are 4 large meat packing companies that control 85% of the beef market.

In poultry, the top 4 processing firms control 54% of the market

And in pork, the top 4 processing firms control about 70% of the market.

“Small independent farmers and ranchers are being driven out of business. Sometimes business that have been around for generations. It strikes at their dignity and their respect and the family legacies so many of them carried for generation after generation," said president Joe Biden.

According to the white house, 50 years ago ranchers would get over $0.60 of every dollar a consumer spent on beef, compared to about $0.39 today.

Similarly, hog farmers would get $0.40-0.60 on each dollar spent 50 years ago and it's down to roughly $0.19 today.

“From my neighbors in Big Sandy to the White House, there is bipartisan consensus that consolidation by the corporate meat packers is putting family ranchers out of business, hurting consumers, and jeopardizing our nation’s food security," said Senator Jon Tester in a statement.

“How do we compete when they’re not playing by the rules and their misleading the consumers," said Schweitzer.

After years of fighting over this issue, the white house has come up with an action plan that just might turn things around for Montana's family farmers and ranchers.

It includes 4 core strategies and will utilize $1 billion dollars in American Rescue Plan Funds for expansion of independent processing capacity.

Specifically, it will:

  1. Expand independent processing capacity, and support workers and the independent processor industry.

  2. Increase transparency in cattle markets, so ranchers can get a fair price for their work.

  3. Issue new, stronger rules under the packers and stockyards act—the law designed to combat abuses by the meatpackers and processors.

  4. Issue new “product of usa” labeling rules so that consumers can better understand where their meat comes from.

“It means I get a better price for my cattle. It means I might be able to hand my farm and ranch off to my daughter instead of losing it. You know what else it means? That my neighbors pay less for their beef at the grocery store," said Schweitzer.

“I'm also very hopeful that this is going to be regional processing. That they're going to invest in our local butchers and processing plants so we can expand back to what we had 30/40/50 years ago. Where Montana produced and processed 70% of our own food," said Schweitzer.

Senator Steve Daines describes the action as a positive step with more action needed.

“Montana ranchers must be able to compete on a level playing field... While this is a welcome step forward from the Administration, we must continue to fight to ensure ranchers are treated fairly in the marketplace and that packers are held accountable… Montana ranchers produce the best beef in the world, they deserve to be recognized for it, and I will continue to work to ensure they can compete fairly,” said Daines, in part, in a statement.

“Farmers Union has been asking for this for decades… To take on these corporate monopolies and make them play fairly, this is huge for the cattle ranchers in Montana," said Schweitzer.

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