The Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) is in Billings for the organization's mid-year meeting this week. The event was originally going to be held in Lewistown in June. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting was postponed and rescheduled.
At the meeting, Montana Stockgrowers members are working on policy issues ranging from water rights, regulation, taxes and more.
The top issue on ranchers’ minds in 2020 is profitability in the cattle market during the pandemic.
“These times are very tough,” said MSGA president Fred Wacker. “Expenses go up. In ranching, we have to have profit in it. So we're happy to be working on that. There is a lot of ideas that we are looking at.”
Those ideas include creating more price discovery and transparency in the cattle marketplace. Most recently, at the start of the pandemic, the meatpacking industry made record profits. At the same time, consumers paid more for beef in the grocery store and ranchers saw decreased profits.
Ranchers believe that market manipulation by meat packers has occurred. All of Montana's elected officials in Washington, D.C., started looking into the issue to get to the bottom of the possible price manipulation.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, both of Montana, spoke at the meeting in Billings.
“We need to make sure we've got transparency and fairness in these markets,” said Daines. “That's why I've been pushing Secretary (Sonny) Perdue at USDA as well as Attorney General (Bill) Barr to begin these investigations into what's going on in the packing industry. Because if there's one thing we're hearing over and over again, there's something doesn't quite smell right with this pricing and we need to make sure there's transparency and fairness in these cattle prices.”
Gianforte also weighed in.
“We need to get more processing capacity,” said Gianforte. “That's going to help us balance this concentration of power that we have by the packers. We're going to get to the bottom of that through our investigations. And if there's been criminal behavior, it needs to be punished. We also need to help fix the problem ourselves. We need to build our own capacity here in Montana as well.”
For more on the Montana Stockgrowers and their policies visit mtbeef.org.