AUDIO: Interview with Gilles Stockton, cattle and sheep rancher in Grass Range, MT
by Mackenzie Johnston | Feb 26, 2021
Photo credit: Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), Homegrown Stories
Q: What do you think are the major issues standing in the way of fair cattle markets?
It’s the agriculture organizations; they’re like a team of dog sled dogs that run off in opposite directions.
The solution is evident, to do what they did in 1921, but each one of these groups has to be their own hero, the result is no one is a hero and nothing gets done. Egos need to be put aside.
Q: What do you think would be the best way to increase competition in our fed cattle market?
The packers have eliminated the public market and have essentially created their own proprietary market. Through this market, packers price fat cattle by basing their price off the spot market, which is almost nonexistent at times. The spot market is easily manipulated and that’s what prices the rest of the cattle.
The cattle industry needs to have the backbone to make the packers buy their cattle in a public competition.
Q: Do you think the cattle industry is in danger of becoming vertically integrated?
The industry is already vertically integrated. There was a huge loss of independent feeders just in the last five years. Back when I started in 1985, there was thousands of farmer feeders in the Midwest, but now they’re gone. Our industry has been swallowed up by captive supply.
Cow calf producers are in the worst position of all because they have no guarantees; they don’t have an opportunity for a contract of any kind.
We see vertical integration show up more and more in the cow calf sector through instances such as USDA pushing for mandatory RFID tags and the push for certain bloodlines.
Q: What are your thoughts on USDA’s push to implement RFID tags across the industry?
USDA is pushing RFID tags for two reasons, to promote exports and disease control. If RFID tags are mandated across the industry, producers who are now implementing source identification in their herds to be exported, and receiving a premium for doing so, will have that premium removed.
When it comes to disease control, USDA continues to refer to stopping Foot-and-Mouth Disease outbreaks. The agency claims that if we don’t implement RFID tags across the industry, we will have a disaster on our hands if an outbreak occurs. Of course it will be a disaster if an outbreak occurs, so why do we continue to import beef from countries with FMD outbreaks leaving the door wide open for an outbreak to occur in the U.S.? How will RFID tags help prevent an FMD outbreak? If this is mandated, all it will do is add another burden on producers.
Q: Do you think the cattle industry needs MCOOL?
Absolutely, it blows my mind that any legislator that comes from a state with a strong cattle industry could ever vote against a bill to reinstate MCOOL.
Often time’s cattle producers think that MCOOL will solve all of our problems, which isn’t the case. With that being said, it is a step in the right direction.