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MO Cattle Producers: More Competition Needed To Stay Profitable

cow eating grass in the field
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Beef and veal prices are up 21% compared with last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Meat prices have been on the rise, but family-farm advocates say higher profits haven't been making their way to smaller cattle producers.

Four companies control 85% of the beef supply, noted Darvin Bentlage, a cattle rancher and farmer in southwest Missouri. He said the executive order on promoting competition that President Joe Biden signed last summer is a step in the right direction, and he urged Congress to follow it up with additional measures to benefit small cattle producers.

"We don't have any competition," he said. "We're often, on the farm, presented with a scenario of 'take it or leave it' prices. We don't get to name our price, and oftentimes, we get shorted in the long run."

Bentlage cited some policies he thinks would make a big difference for producers across the nation -- from requiring meatpackers to purchase 50% of their supply from the cash market, rather than entering futures contracts, to reinstating a requirement that meat processers adhere to country-of-origin labeling. Industry groups oppose those reforms, saying they would have unintended consequences for supply and demand.

Patty Lovera, a policy adviser with the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, said this isn't a new problem, and while ranchers and consumers are missing out, the corporate middlemen are not.

"If you're a producer who's raised animals the right way -- they're grass-fed, or pasture-based, small-scale, humane -- it's harder and harder for those folks to get their products to market because big corporate meatpackers don't want to deal with them," she said. "They want to deal with factory farms that are cranking out huge numbers of animals."

She urged lawmakers not to let up on market competition reform. The renewed calls for action follow a recent White House report showing the larger meat-processing companies are recording massive profits amid inflation issues. Those companies counter that they're being made scapegoats as prices rise.

Missouri News Service is a contributing partner with KRCU Public Radio.