Amid an ongoing battle over regulation of beefpackers, House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott introduced a bill Friday that would target new federal assistance to small cattle operations.
The Small Family Farmer and Rancher Relief Act would increase the premium subsidy for ranchers insuring herds of 100 or fewer cattle through the Livestock Risk Protection Program. It would also create the Beef Cattle Spread Coverage Program, which would compensate producers when their share of the retail dollar drops below 51.7%.
“I have tremendous respect for our small farmers and ranchers,” said Scott, D-Ga. “It is a shame that we have lost so many of them because they have been unable to capture their fair share of the food dollar. This must stop.”
The bill also would create a Small Rancher Market Access competitive grant program through USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. This program would provide small producers and cooperatives with money to market their meat products locally.
The bill comes on the heels of other legislative efforts to reform cattle markets, including the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, which would mandate minimum levels of cash trading, and the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, which would require USDA to set up an investigative office within its Packers and Stockyards Division. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the two bills in June.
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Scott said that while previous proposals tackled issues like consolidation and transparency, he has not seen enough emphasis on directly aiding small farmers and ranchers.
The U.S. Cattlemen's Association said in a statement it was still reviewing the specifics of the bill, but welcomes "any opportunity to increase the profitability and viability of independent producers."
Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said in a statement that Scott's bill "prompts more questions than it provides answers."
Tanner Beymer, senior director of government affairs for NCBA, told Agri-Pulse that the group is still looking over the legislation. He said NCBA is questioning the 100-head threshold included in the bill, however.
"In some regions, that probably would very adequately describe and define a small operation," he said. "But if you go to other parts of the country, and that may not necessarily be the case."
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This article was updated with comments from NCBA and the U.S. Cattlemen's Association.