Relationships between NCBA representatives and policy makers in the nation's capital have changed considerably since the 2008 elections, but not all for the worse. In a meeting of NCBA's Agricultural Policy Comittee at the industry summer conference today, Colin Woodall, the organization's executive director of legislative affairs outlined some of the ups and downs of catlemen's influence.

* Access to the U.S. trade representative's office, Woodall says, has improved, with good support for efforts to improve U.S. beef's access to export markets.

* Access to the Secretary of Agriculture's office is challenging, with communications hampered by a general lack of high-level USDA officials with direct experinence in production agriculture. "It's harder, but we aren't cut out," Woodalll says.

* On Capital Hill, NCBA is working to develop relationships within the new Congress. Woodhall says support for ag interests isn't necessarily a Republican or Democrat issue, but comes down to individuals. H cites Representative Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) as an example of a legislator firmly on the side of cattlemen's interests.

* Building support in Congress for increasing the Beef Checkoff is unlikely leading up to mid-term elections.

* NCBA has worked for years to eliminate the "death tax." Current focus is shifting toward raising the exemption level and lowering the rates, and creating some form of agricultural exemption for inheritance taxes. Woodhall says Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) plans to introduce a tax bill this fall that will provide some relief to farmers and ranchers passing thier operations to the next generation.