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Sen. Grassley Reintroduces Legislation To Give Cattle Producers More Bargaining Leverage

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Amy Mayer
/
IPR file
Iowa's senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley reintroduced bipartisan legislation in March to help cattle producers with market competition.

Iowa cattle producers struggle with limited competition in markets for their livestock and Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says he wants to help them.

Four meatpackers control most of the slaughter. Cora Fox, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association director of government relations, said producers don’t have much bargaining leverage.

“They feel that they’re being lowballed for what their cattle are worth,” Fox said.

Grassley, a Republican, reintroduced bipartisan legislation in March to help producers. The bill would require meatpackers to buy at least half the amount of beef cattle they slaughter weekly from the market where buyers and sellers negotiate prices. The bill also says livestock must be slaughtered no more than two weeks after a producer reaches an agreement with a buyer. Fox said that would assure buyers and sellers the cattle are going to move quickly to slaughter.

“The delivery dates are pretty far out. Definitely more than two weeks for most people, which means you’re going to be feeding [cattle] longer,” Fox said. “And they’re going to be taking up space on your farm longer, costing you more money.”

During a call with reporters Thursday, Grassley said the limited competition in the market has made cattle producers “residual suppliers.”

“While waiting for those bids, Iowa cattlemen have to deal with feeding their cattle with corn that is now over $7 a bushel, praise the Lord for $7 a bushel, but it doesn't make cattle feeding very profitable,” Grassley said. “I’m worried about our independent producers.”

Grassley met with at least 150 cattlemen in eastern Iowa this week. He said producers share a sense of urgency for a fix.

“Some people were irritated that ‘you can pass this bill, but it’s not going to help our immediate problems’,” Grassley said. “And almost insinuating that some of them would be out of business.”

Grassley said he’d have to get Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to hold a hearing on the bill. But said he hasn’t had a discussion with her yet. Fox said Grassley’s bill is a start, but there still aren’t enough large meatpackers to increase competition in the market.

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