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Battle lines in cattle country

Jul 28, 2017

If you usually start reading the WLJ opinion page with the editorial comments, I urge you to read Kendal Frazier’s “Unholy Alliances” and Bill Bullard’s response to it first.

The big “political” factions of our industry—the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R- CALF)—have finally called each other out by name in a public way. The proverbial gauntlet was thrown down and taken up.

I see our industry as a microcosm of our country.

Both ranchers and Americans at large are deeply divided along “political” lines.

In America generally, Republicans and Democrats accuse each other of lying, ignoring important issues in favor of lining their pockets, and ultimately destroying the country. In our industry, NCBA and R- CALF accuse each other of selling ranchers out to the “enemy” and of undermining the interests of those they claim to represent. For both Americans and ranchers, the divide has gotten so bad the two sides can’t even agree on what is real anymore.

Here’s one thing I know is real: We are all invested in this industry.

Every single one of you reading the pages of WLJ or any of the other trade publications—plus those of us on this side of the page—want to see the American ranching industry continue and thrive. We can all hang our hats on that.

Of course, what we can’t all agree on is how to achieve that goal. And therein lies the problem.

To borrow a political catchphrase, how do we make ranching great again? To borrow another, I say it should be an all-of-the-above strategy—so long as that strategy does not include fighting with ourselves.

Our community is too small to allow ourselves to become divided. The number of cattle operators in the U.S. that gets bandied about is 775,000, and that is tiny. The total U.S. population was estimated at 323.1 million people last year. That makes cattle ranchers 0.2 percent of the population. We cannot afford to fight with each other.

Regardless of who or what we see as the primary threat to the continuation of the ranching community in the U.S., another thing we can all agree on is that ranching is threatened. But we have too many outside “enemies” beyond our control—from unpredictable weather, to constantly changing market conditions, to regulatory uncertainty, to a dangerously uninformed consumer base—to include other ranchers in those ranks.

We might disagree on how to best achieve the goal of making sure ranching thrives in the future, but we are all trying to reach that same goal. We— as individuals, not group affiliations—are all in this together. We cannot forget that.

Our industry’s “political parties” might continue sniping at each other, just as the Republicans and Democrats continue to sling mud at one another. But, as individual members of the ranching community, we need to spend our time doing what we can to help ensure ranching continues rather than waste time, energy, and resources attacking each other.

“If cohesion in the cattle industry is so important, why did WLJ give page space to the fight between NCBA and R-CALF?” you might ask. And it’s a good question.

Each time something like this comes up, Pete and I talk about how involved we should get. We have limited space in the paper; how should we use it? Are our readers better served if we use that space for “just the facts, ma’am” topics that can help their businesses, or are intra-industry conflicts sufficiently important?

In this case, I argued that airing the fight between R-CALF and NCBA is important. Our industry’s “political parties” are doubling down on their antagonism of each other. But that doesn’t mean individual ranchers need to follow suit.

Individual Americans have sadly followed their political parties into hyper-partisanship to the point where many are refusing to speak to family members who are now “the enemy.” The ranching community cannot afford that, and—I think—is better than that.

We are all in this together. Only together can we achieve the goal of keeping ranching in the U.S. going strong. — KERRY HALLADAY

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