“You’ve got your facts wrong.” So began a recent phone exchange (I hesitate to call it a conversation because I didn’t get the opportunity to say much) with a cattle producer who challenged my story on increasing supplies of red meat and poultry. (“A mountain of meat looms,” Drovers, Oct. 2016, page 7.)
This caller insisted that U.S. Department of Agriculture data for red meat and poultry supplies are flawed because of imports. He knows because he’s seen “the trucks loaded with cattle driving across our borders.”
I have no doubt that he has witnessed the physical transportation of cattle from Mexico or Canada (he didn’t say which) into the United States. And it’s clear he believes such imports are at least part of the reason cattle prices tanked this year.
Whether his observations represent a valid claim we don’t know. That’s because market analysts, reporters and USDA statisticians must rely on hard data. Convinced that USDA’s data is flawed? Sure, I’ll listen. But you must provide me with more tangible evidence than watching a few cattle trucks crossing the border.
My caller also suggested I, along with other agricultural reporters, am guilty of contributing to the sorry state of today’s agricultural economy. And he’s not alone. A reader of one market story published on Drovers.com claims it is wrong for us to publish USDA information regarding beef supplies. The specific story contained a USDA projection that 2016 beef supplies will be up 5.2%, and increase another 3.4% in 2017. This “type of rhetoric only serves to fuel the already bearish markets plaguing producers,” he claimed in the email.
Another producer sent us an email claiming our price quotes on Tennessee 6-weight calves was off the mark. We replied that the prices had been taken directly from USDA Market News. Interestingly, he insisted that our reporting was wrong, and that if we “need more accurate information” we should call an 800-number he provided. The 800-number connected us to USDA Market News.
Further, he insisted in his email that “people like you is one reason farming and livestock prices are the way they are.” We can only assume that the “people” like me are agricultural reporters.
Another caller seemed to harbor similar contempt for people like me when he asked, “Have you ever fed cattle?”
Think about that for a moment. What is the right answer for “people like me?” In some ways it’s similar to asking someone “Have you stopped beating your wife?”
A “no” answer to my caller could suggest that I don’t have the intellect to report on cattle markets. But, a “yes” answer would surely confirm a limited intellectual capacity.
More important than these individual criticisms of stories is the increasing level of producer frustration they signal. We’re quite aware that a semi-load of 550-weight calves is worth $70,000 less today than it was two years ago. Our reporting of those facts will not change them.
Indeed, shedding light on those facts is the only thing that can help improve them. Without relevant market information you can’t make sound decisions for your family or your business. You may not like the news when we deliver it, but good or bad it is critical to your decision making.
Believe me, reporting on market rallies is much more fun. Until those days return, please, don’t shoot the messenger.