Next week will be a busy the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees as both bodies have multiple hearings lined up, including the first field hearing on the next possible farm bill.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will kick things off Tuesday with hearings to review cattle markets over two pieces of legislation. First is the big on, the S. 4030, the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act of 2022.
The bill led by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., has 17 co-sponsors, which includes nine members of the Ag Committee. Fisher, along with Sens. Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have rewritten the bill multiple times since it was first proposed in summer 2020 after cattle markets crashed because of COVID-19.
Two years ago this week, more than 20 packers were closed or limited in their processing capacity because of sick workers and major grocers were limiting meat sales. At that time, the disparity between USDA's Boxed Beef Cut-out and live cattle sales were spreading, and packer bids were essentially non-existent. At least 11 state attorneys general also called on the Department of Justice to investigate cattle markets as well.
The sticking point over the bill remains a conflict over mandating levels of cash trade. Under the bill, USDA would two years to set up mandatory minimum cash market trade for five to seven regions of the country, factoring in the number of packers in a region and the availability of fed cattle, as well as pre-existing contractual arrangements for packers in each region as well. The minimum cash trade would range somewhere between the average negotiated purchases and grid purchases made from Jan. 1, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2022, but not be any larger than 50%.
The bill also would require USDA to create and maintain a library of market contracts between packers and producers.
The committee also will take up S. 3870, the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act. That bill, let by Tester, with 12 co-sponsors, would establish the Office of Special Investigator for Competition Matters within USDA. This office would have subpoena power to investigate and prosecute violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act, working with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. The special investigator would have the authority to bring civil or administrative actions against packers.
This bill reflects just how much USDA's Packers and Stockyards enforcement has been stripped down from when it was once part of the now-defunct GIPSA to now operating as part of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. The Packers & Stockyards Division largely now brings cases against individual cattle buyers or sales barns, but P&S does not pursue cases against major packers. https://www.congress.gov/…
USDA's Packers and Stockyards Division https://www.ams.usda.gov/…
The Senate hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Central https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/…
The House Agriculture Committee will follow up on April 27 with a comparable hearing, "An examination of price discrepancies, transparency and alleged unfair practices in cattle markets." This hearing put together by Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., is expected to include the CEOs of Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS and National Beef Packing as well. A notice on the hearing also added that a panel of ranchers will be convened as well "to hearing what consolidation in the beef industry has done to their bottom lines and viability."
That hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Central https://agriculture.house.gov/…
House Ag will follow up on April 28 with a review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the farm bill. Certainly among the divisions in Congress is how SNAP is operated and its funding. That battle will carry forward in any attempts to draft a new farm bill as arguments continue over who should be eligible for SNAP and how it should be funded going forward. These debates are going to be heightened around the concerns over food inflation as well.
The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Central https://agriculture.house.gov/…
The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its first field hearing at Michigan State University in a nod to Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Ranking Member John Boozman, R-Ark., also will attend and it's likely that the committee also will hold a similar hearing in the coming months in Arkansas as well. So far, no specific focus or witness list has been provided for the Michigan hearing.
That hearing also will be held at 9 a.m. Central https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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