Employees at the Kansas Farmers Union in McPherson are anxiously waiting to see if Washington will support legislation aimed at protecting small livestock producers.

Employees at the Kansas Farmers Union in McPherson are anxiously waiting to see if Washington will support legislation aimed at protecting small livestock producers.
Within the next few weeks, the United States Department of Agriculture is expected to decide its next step regarding the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule.
The GIPSA rule came from a mandate in the 2008 Farm Bill. It seeks to address violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which maintains fair trade. Sixty thousand public comments were made in response to the GIPSA rule, but they may be disregarded due to lack of funding, among other factors.
In a nutshell, GIPSA helps protect small producers who are being pushed out of the market by the four major meatpackers in the United States.

in competition
Twenty years ago, packer bids on Daryl Larson's cattle would come about four to five days a week. Ten years ago, that shrunk to two days a week. Then once a week. Now, Larson, vice president of Kansas Farmer’s Union, says, there is a 10 to 15 minute window to accept or decline whatever offer is presented — not enough time for buying and selling fairly on the market.
This has driven many small producers out of business. According to Kansas Farm Statistics, in McPherson County the number of cattle and calves have decreased from 64,200 in 1981 to 53,400 in 2009.
Hogs and pigs in McPherson County have dropped from 368,000 in 1980 to 207,000 in 2008.
This isn't just occurring locally. During a national workshop on competition in the livestock industry in Colorado last year, producers from all over the United States shared their own woes on the subject. Although he did not attribute the statistics to any specific source, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the number of U.S. cattle producers has dropped from 1.6 million in 1980 to 950,000 today.
    Although he has not gone out of business, McPherson County Feeders manager Allan Sents says he has felt the effects of the meatpackers’ power. His biggest concern is for small producers like himself to have equal access to the market.
“Hopefully this rule would force some of those large players back into the negotiated market, have them participate in the marketplace and also allow smaller producers to receive the same type of premiums and discounts that are currently more selectively done,” he said. “My hope is that it's implemented in the way the authors spelled it out in the proposed rule and preamble. If it's done in that manner, then it will level the playing field, so to speak.”

The case
against GIPSA
Fighting strong against the proposed GIPSA rule are the four giant meatpackers — Tyson, Cargill, JBS and National Beef — who control about 80 percent of the U.S. beef market. On the same side is the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) which provides its opposition to GIPSA rules on its Web site.
“By combining concepts of marketing agreements, redefining terms to eliminate business justifications defenses to allegations of marketplace improprieties, and overt attempts to rewrite the (Packers and Stockyards Act) and judicial precedent, GIPSA has created a regulatory quagmire that will stifle beef trade, placing beef producers at a competitive disadvantage to other protein suppliers.”
The KLA?expressed its concerns GIPSA has not outlined benefits for producers, hinders the purposes of the Packers and Stockyards Act, institutes unworkable overregulation and, in addition, will cause endless costly litigation that will disrupt the market.
Before issuing future rules, the KLA requested officials engage in discussions with producers, packers, retailers and consumers.
As the Farmers Union and area livestock producers await the decision that will undoubtedly have a noticeable impact on their industry, they feel an urgency for farmers to communicate with Washington regarding the regulations.

Calls to
Larson is in support of the GIPSA rule and urges everyone — producers or not — to become vocal about the need for continued research.
“If they want a very few number of food processors to control the entire food supply in this country, then they should just ignore it,” he said. “If they want to keep small producers in business, so there is adequate competition producing the commodities they end up eating, they need to call the congressman and say, ‘We need to protect our small producers. We need to implement the GIPSA rules.’”
Larson believes this is the first and best line of defense against the unfair trade within the industry.
“If we don't get the general population of people to start calling their senators and representatives, I would be willing to bet we have an 80 percent probability it's just going to be swept under the rug and done away with,” he said. “The way things currently are, it looks like that's the way things are headed, and this is our best opportunity we've had in years to move forward with this and get the big processors kind of under control again.”
The Farmers Union website provides the information for seven contacts their leaders think will help persuade Washington to move forward on this issue. This includes Congressman Tim Huelskamp and Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. Although the congressmen say they're listening, Larson says they are afraid the research will cost the nation money at a time of tight fiscal budgets. He believes differently.
“It's not going to cost the nation money. It's going to cost the processors money that continue to cheat the producer,” he said.