BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (DTN) -- The cattle industry's virtual meeting, "2021 Winter Reboot," wrapped up its first day of presentations Tuesday, with a highlight of the day being a State of the Industry Report, delivered by National Cattlemen's Beef Association leaders Colin Woodall and Ethan Lane.
Woodall, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), addressed pricing disruptions during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically noting industry-wide calls for more market transparency. He said NCBA has a Cattle Markets Working Group looking at the issue now, and a report is expected at the end of the first quarter. This report will give everyone the benefit of more data prior to making policy decisions.
Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs, noted the framework for this first-quarter program was set up by producer members within the organization, with everyone representing different viewpoints.
"We will analyze the best data from our land-grant universities to tell us how much negotiated and cash trade is occurring, where it's occurring and whether, week over week, it is happening in a way that gives us a sense as to whether we have the robust trade we need, to have price discovery," he said. "Once the first-quarter data is in, the group will look to see if any triggers were tripped in different regions. This will inform how we move forward."
Woodall and Lane noted, through the past year, the NCBA has had several "wins" that have helped the beef industry throughout the volatility of COVID-19. Those included EPA dropping regularly scheduled inspections, which Woodall characterized as a "huge win for NCBA." In addition, he said the Department of Transportation (DOT) waived hours of service for livestock haulers, and that too was critical in the ability of the industry to move forward.
"That waiver by the DOT gave us the flexibility to get cattle into the system and quickly processed," he added.
Lane said that flexibility by way of the DOT waiver came as a result of "monthly litigation" with the department. He is hopeful the livestock industry has made a point during that time, given the stellar safety record haulers maintained. This, he said, in the months to come will be used to show there is no need for restrictions on live animal hauling. The current extension on the waiver ends May 31.
Another point NCBA leadership was especially proud of was the opening of Small Business Administration loans to agriculture and other small rural businesses.
"The Small Business Committee took on a role of monumental importance over the last year, and agriculture was included in those conversations," said Lane. "Many on that committee did not know how small businesses operated in the rural agricultural space, so we did a lot of education about how our operations are set up and how those are different in terms of the challenges they face."
Both Woodall and Lane spent a good deal of time addressing the changing leadership in Washington, and both noted the NCBA is "in the friend-making business." The overall tone suggested a cautious optimism exists at being able to work with the new Biden administration, especially its more moderate arm.
"We have a robust dialogue with the Biden White House, and agencies like the EPA and the USDA," said Lane. "They are making it clear we have a seat at the table. There's not a promise we will always agree, but they are working hard to make it clear they want to start looking for solutions with input from industries, in areas like climate change and diversity. So, there is a set at the table for us, and we are taking full advantage of that." Lane added there is a freeze on regulations that came out of the Trump administration now, meaning they are under review and were not just automatically rolled back as some had feared.
"We've taken a lot of arrows for saying we want to work with this administration," said Woodall. "We know there will be challenges. That is the case with every administration. But this is about building relationships."
Woodall noted an early memo from the Biden transition team addressing climate change talked about how agriculture fits into that mix as a solution.
"We were surprised that it made clear they see us as part of the solution, not part of the problem," he said. "They talked about wildfires, too, and said they see grazing as an important mitigation tool."
Lane said Biden has made it clear the U.S. can't accomplish conservation without grazing and cattle.
"We help sequester carbon in soils and protect wildlife. Without the cattle producers doing what they do, this can't be accomplished. Affirmative recognition of that from this administration gives us an opportunity to engage. We need to educate the administration about what our producers are already doing," Lane said.
Looking at Congress, Lane concluded he sees the real power concentrated among moderates right now, and there will be opportunities to extend those relationships.
"The Blue Dog Caucus is one we were told a few years ago was dead. But this new Congress is showing us an eruption of moderate Democrats. We have great friends on the Democratic side of the aisle, and many members of Congress understand that agriculture is bipartisan. Agriculture is not a place for partisan warfare. We've seen as many losses at the hands of the Freedom Caucus as we have at the hands of Democrats -- the extremes of politics don't help agriculture."
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