Cattle and hog producers for and against the Obama administration's plan to improve market fairness and transparency are in Fort Collins, Colorado for Friday's USDA-DOJ workshop on competition in the livestock industry.
While federal officials deny there will be any linkage between the workshop and the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration proposal aimed at leveling the playing field for independent producers, both sides seem to view the day-long conference as a referendum on whether the GIPSA rule should be implemented as drafted or withdrawn.
Jess Peterson, a lobbyist for the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, anticipates a lively exchange of ideas and opinions.
"This is a great place for the producers, for the packers, for the feeders," Peterson said. "My understanding and all indications from USDA they are going to have a very well balanced panel. Your going to hear from all sides on this issue, I think it opens it up for a very good discussion and a debate, if you will."
CEO of R-CALF USA Bill Bullard, as well as those with other groups that support the GIPSA proposal, say they're determined to send a clear message to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder.
"We will mark the beginning of a new direction for the U.S. livestock industry," Bullard said. "That will be a direction in which open and robust competition will determine the future of this industry, not regulation and control by the meatpackers."
Major meatpackers oppose the GIPSA proposal as does the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, both of which contend it would limit the marketing options for producers.
NCBA's Colin Woodall is hoping for a fact-based discussion on the state of competition in the cattle sector.
"Right now there is a lot of emotion that's driven by some very vocal groups out there, but on the other side we have a lot of hard facts that show what is and what is not happening in the marketplace," Woodall said. "Our goal for Fort Collins is to make sure we have plenty of NCBA members there to give that balanced perspective on the marketplace."
Livestock activists are trying to get 25,000 ranchers and other rural Americans to show up on the campus of Colorado State University. Fred Stokes, Executive Director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, says he doubts that many people will actually make it but he's certain there'll be a respectable crowd.
"I had a block of hotel rooms reserved and was in single occupancy, now I'm having to double people up and share them for people who weren't able to get a room," Stokes said. "So they're out of rooms, they're doing all sorts of things; campers and some other things, so it looks like a good crowd. It would be wonderful if they got the 25,000 being called for; my personal opinion is that's not likely. But if they get 5,000, that's about ten times what they've had at the other workshops."
Both sides of the livestock competition debate hosted events Thursday evening in Fort Collins designed to energize their respective followers.