Photo by Chad Hobbs | The Meade County Messenger
Gary Greenwell and his grandson, Vance Pickering, deliver a load of cattle last Friday morning to United Producers in Irvington for the yellow tag sale.
The monopolization of the agriculture industry is nothing new for farmers. Whether it be seed companies, equipment companies, meat packers or any other supplier/purchaser of production level ag products, every sector has been allowed to consolidate down, many into the range of a handful of companies at best, that control the field not only domestically but some globally, as well. Anti-trust legislation and prosecution of yesteryear has slipped away into the shadows.
Four major packers control, almost exclusively, the U.S. meat and poultry industry that in 2016 was a $1.02 trillion industry. A trillion dollars is a tough number to wrap one’s head around. Just think about that…it takes a thousand millions to make a billion. It takes one million millions to make a trillion. When the competition has been eliminated to the point that four companies control that much, how is that any different than John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil?
This has been really evident during the COVID lockdown, as meat prices soared while many beef cattle producers saw their paychecks draw closer and closer to barely breaking even. Someone has been getting rich, but it surely hasn’t b
een the cattle farmers, many of whom call Meade County home.
Over the coming weeks, we hope to explore the beef industry with the help of industry insiders from farm to table, and explore why the consumers are paying more than ever for a product that has many producers struggling to make ends meet.
We will start with the yellow tag sale that took place last week. You may have noticed a steady stream of local beef cattle producers hauling cattle to the United Producers stock yard just outside of Irvington. They were taking part in the second and last Yellow Tag Sale for the year.
United Producers, Inc. allows members to take part in these sales, if they adhere to their program requirements for these value-added sales. Each animal must have the yellow ear tag which is purchased from UPI, certifying they have been “weaned, double vaccinated, wormed and managed according to the requirements of the Yellow Tag Program, therefore increasing their marketability,” according to UPI’s requirement page. Calves are also recommended to be bunk broke (a type of feeder for cattle).
Approximately 1,200 head of cattle were auctioned off last Friday night. They were weighed and graded by a USDA inspector before the sale. Then they were divided into large lots based on weights and grades. This co-mingled type of sale, where like cattle are grouped together from multiple farms, leads to more competition among the bigger buyers that come to participate. One gentleman I spoke with had traveled all the way from Iowa, seeking out beef bound for a feed lot in his state.
Local farmer, Ryan Hager, who was waiting in line to unload his cattle Friday morning said that he started participating in the yellow tag program last year and felt like he got a little better price for his beef this way versus selling it on the open market. Several other farmers, present that night at the auction, said that was the case again this year for them. Though the prices weren’t as high as they would have liked to have seen, by the time the dust settled in the sale ring, they felt they had still received a better price than what they would have by just selling them at any stock yard outright.
In the coming weeks, I will set down with John Gibson, the facility manager in Irvington and others, as we take a look at the state of the meat industry and get some insight on the market from different levels of production, and what the future may hold for both farmers and consumers.