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City Desk

Pandemic deepens crisis for ranchers, cattle farmers


Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff


March, 24, 2020

BILLINGS, Montana -- Already facing issues in the marketplace, ranchers and cattle farmers also are getting hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.


Billings-based group R-CALF USA, which represents independent cattle producers, is speaking with members of Congress and has sent an emergency letter to President Donald Trump urging measures that will do more than just keep their industry afloat.


R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard said the group has seen depressed prices for years and now wants to see meaningful reforms rather than bail-out money.


"Congress is not yet focused on the real problem," Bullard said. "Instead, they're merely trying to address the symptoms of the problem. And we think that that is a misguided approach to this prolonged crisis."


Bullard said the novel coronavirus crisis could be an opportunity to implement what R-CALF sees as the best policy change for improving cattle farmers' situation: restoring mandatory country-of-origin labeling.


Last week, R-CALF sent a letter to Trump outlining five emergency stopgap measures for cattle producers. Bullard said among them is asking Congress to streamline the ability for state-inspected beef packing plants to ship beef across state lines, especially as meat becomes scarce on some grocery store shelves.


"They're presently prohibited from doing that because the requirement is it has to be federally inspected," he said. "And we have many small meatpackers who could be helping this distribution problem, if only they were able to sell beef across state lines."


R-CALF also is calling on the federal government to extend loan-repayment deadlines; grant capital gains tax relief for farmers selling land, cattle and equipment; and suspend beef importation from Brazil, which is a major competitor with U.S. beef.

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