ND Farmers Hope Market-Reform Bill Sees New Life

By Mike Moen, Prairie News Service

The cattle market has seen many wild swings in recent months, and North Dakota ranchers say it’s time for Congress to step in.

They want more price transparency and continuity at a time when many of them are barely breaking even.

Donny Nelson, a farmer and rancher near Keene, said while the weather wasn’t as big a problem this year, there was still too much market volatility, especially at the onset of the pandemic.

He said during an election cycle, farmers often get promises of help, but the lack of comprehensive action leaves him skeptical.

“Every proposal that’s been brought by ranchers gets shot down because of the lobbying power of the big packers,” Nelson asserted.

He’s referring to the four meat packers who have a large presence in the cattle market.

Nelson, a longtime member of the Dakota Resource Council which has long fought for fair prices for ranchers, is supportive of a bill co-sponsored by North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven.

It would require a minimum of 50% of a meat packer’s weekly volume of beef slaughter be purchased on the open or spot market. The bill has bipartisan support, but it’s unclear whether a vote will happen anytime soon.

The market woes at the start of the pandemic did call more attention to the issue, and the Department of Justice began investigating claims of price manipulation.

Meanwhile, Nelson said producers like him long for the days when there was a more defined market.

“When you lose money, you used to be able to gain it back in an up-cycle,” Nelson explained. “Now, you’re just basically breaking even or losing money.”

In addition to the Justice Department investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year issued a report that highlighted a number of issues weighing down the market.

Following the report, the agency said it’s applying some fixes, including looking at grant and loan opportunities for those who want to open smaller packing plants.

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