NASHVILLE, TN-The new head of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says battling  “overregulation’’ by the Environmental Protection is the biggest challenge facing his 27,000 members.

Texan Bob McCan, who took over last week as NCBA president after serving a year as president-elect, promised to stay aggressive in backing office-seekers who agree with the association’s positions on issues such as nutrient management and implementation of the Clean Water Act.

NCBA President, Bob McCan

“We’ve become much more focused on PACs (political action committees),” McCan said during a break at the 2014 Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show in Nashville. “We invite legislators over to our office, give them a little short course on the beef industry, and send them a check. It makes a big difference.”

McCan said the organization is focusing its efforts in the November elections on helping Republicans, who are generally more sympathetic to NCBA positions, take control of the U.S. Senate while maintaining their grip on the House. He specifically cited the Senate races in South Dakota, where incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson is retiring, and in Louisiana, where Democrat Mary Landrieu is seeking reelection to a fourth term.

His “big worry” at the moment are the planned changes the EPA has for regulating the “waters of the U.S.’’ under the Clean Water Act. McCan said indications are that the EPA wants to extend its jurisdiction,  which now includes mostly “navigable” waters, down to ``creek, streams, puddles and fields that fill up with water” after a heavy rain. The plan is now under interagency review at the White House Office of Management and Budget

The NCBA website puts its opinion on the issue this way:

“This guidance or a subsequent rulemaking would amount to one of the largest ever land-grabs by the federal government. It is also a severe infringement on Americans’ private property rights granted by the U.S. Constitution.”

McCan said this type of “over-regulation” would force his members as well as crop producers to fill out reams of unnecessary forms and applications when planning any changes in their operations.

A fifth-generation rancher, the 56-year-old Texas A&M grad said he’s learned about the need for strong environmental stewardship while running a large cow-calf operation and recreational hunting preserve in South Texas.

“We can show that we are good stewards of our land and that we can manage our environment” without unneeded mandates from the EPA, said McCan, who’s been honored for his conservation efforts by the Society for Range Management and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Agency.

Another major challenge facing his organization is how to turn around a shrinking cattle herd that at the start of the year had dropped to 87.7 million head, the smallest since 1951, to meet what McCan said was strong domestic beef demand and record overseas sales. He said the challenge was “not insurmountable’’ but would take two years or longer.

To boost the herd, ranchers have to hold back more heifers for breeding, further reducing beef production, which has already fallen to the lowest level in two decades. This could drive up retail prices, already at record highs, and risk pushing consumers toward cheaper sources of protein such as chicken and pork.

While some segments of the industry, the feedyard operators and meatpackers, are suffering from excess capacity, the high prices calves and beef are commanding point to good times for his members.

Still, he warns, “We sure don’t want prices to get so high the consumer turns away.”


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