Cattle market crash: the demise of American family farms

By Candace Barnette
Posted: Mon 5:14 PM, Nov 28, 2016

KEMPER CO., Miss. (WTOK) – Local family farms are dying. It’s something Fred Stokes realized soon after he retired from the military in 1972 and decided to become a cattleman in Kemper County.

“A year later, we had a market that was 40 percent of what I had bought in on, and I owed more money than everything I owned was worth,” Stokes says.

Farmers and ranchers across the country and here in Mississippi share similar stories. In Bay Springs, over 100 gathered to take a closer look at how this happened. In short, they say it boils down to the globalization of the industry.

“There are just too few companies controlling the marketplace,” Joe Maxwell with the Organization for Competitive Markets says. “And what does that do? It drives the price down to farmers and drives them off the land and increases the cost to the consumers.”

The U.S. is importing more beef. And according to these farmers, while the country is bringing in cheaper meat from these multi-national corporations, often grocery stores are still raising the price.

“The retailers are robbing the bank and the big packers are driving the getaway,” OCM board member Mike Callicrate says. “They are literally stealing the livestock that’s produced in places like Mississippi.”

Another factor? Country of Origin Labeling. You may see signs like this on your fish, but where does your beef come from? Stokes says the recent repeal of the Country of Origin Labeling mandates in the U.S. means that retailers are no longer required to tell you where your beef or pork comes from.

“They want to bring in stuff from the cheapest source on the globe, and they don’t want you to know where it came from,” Stokes says.

And with multiple ingredients at play, Stokes says the cattle market has crashed, leaving farmers and ranchers struggling to find a way to make any kind of living.

According to the USDA, Americans consumed 24.8 billion pounds of beef last year. The average price was $6.29 per pound, up $2.20 over the past decade. In part two of this series tomorrow, we’ll explore how the crash is impacting you, the consumer, and what steps are needed to fix the problem.

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