It’s that time of the year here in Texas. It’s time for families to dust off the grill and get ready to barbecue. Since May kicks off barbecue season, it’s only fitting that this month is designated as National Beef Month. During National Beef Month, folks across the country will take time to recognize and celebrate U.S. ranchers and the great contributions they make to our country, especially our food supply.
In today’s economy, U.S. families are fortunate to spend only 5.7 percent of their disposable income on food. That is less than any other country in the world. This fact isn’t coincidence. It’s largely because of efficient and innovative technology coupled with the free market system we have in the U.S.
Unfortunately, many folks underestimate the Texas beef industry. They don’t realize that each rancher feeds approximately 144 people, a dramatic increase from 25 people in the 1960s. We are able to do that because of the more than 800,000 ranching families across the country that work hard each and every day to safely, humanely and efficiently raise cattle. However, this number is shrinking. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 1960 and 2007, the number of U.S. family agriculture operations declined by more than 1.7 million. In 1960 there were 3.9 million family agriculture operations feeding a U.S. population of 183 million. In 2007, there were 2.2 million farms feeding an estimated population of 301 million.
It is becoming harder and harder for the next generation of ranchers to make a start in the cattle business. Some proposals in Washington would make it even harder for young ranchers to start, let alone thrive, in this business.
Such proposals include regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would increase the allowable amount of gasoline in ethanol from 10 percent to 15 percent. While cattle raisers support alternative fuel choices, we don’t support putting our food and fuel in competition with one another. This would drive up the price of corn, which in turn would drive up the cost of feed.
The EPA has also proposed stricter dust standards, which means they would regulate dust on private ranches. Ranchers could be required to implement expensive dust mitigation technologies, yet another expense imposed by overreaching government regulation. This is on top of proposals to regulate greenhouse gases, which would impose unnecessary, unscientific and costly regulations on ranchers.
The EPA also continues to pursue unscientific based rules on water quality. Texas has more surface and groundwater systems than any other state in the nation. The EPA’s continual push to further regulate the water in our state puts private property owners, including ranchers, on the hook for unnecessary and expensive compliance with federal regulations.
Additionally, some members of Congress are once again proposing legislation that would severely limit a rancher’s ability to prevent and control diseases within their cattle herds. Without the ability to safely and judiciously protect our animals from disease, there is little protecting the industry from losing their herd to disease.
Not only does it cost the rancher to comply with all these new regulations, it also increases the size of government, which increases the amount of taxes we must pay. Ranchers not only get hit with the cost of complying with new regulations, but we also get hit with the taxes to pay for an expanding government.
Looking at this list, one would wonder why anyone, let alone a young rancher, would want to venture into the cattle business. Yet, many still do. They do so because they have a deep desire to continue the strong traditions that cattle raisers across this state have worked to maintain.
They do so because they want to provide safe and healthy food for their family and yours.
They do so because they know the price to be paid if Americans have to rely on foreign countries for their food supply.
TSCRA is working around the clock to prevent legislation and regulation that would stifle the growth of our industry. If we want to continue to celebrate National Beef Month for years to come, we must create an environment where young ranchers can thrive and continue to provide Americans with a nutritious food source, not one that regulates them out of business.
Joe Parker, Jr. is a third generation rancher from Clay County, Texas. He is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He is also chairman of the board and president of the First National Bank of Byers.