Trampling Price Signals

When we were kids in Oklahoma checking cattle with my dad, he would always ask us, “What do you think of that steer?” or “Which of those heifers do you like better?”  We acquired the ability to judge the physical traits of cattle that way.

Stockers on winter rye grass pasture in SE Oklahoma

But it was not until we were allowed to buy cattle ourselves that the concept of price was thrown into the equation.  All of a sudden, that steer that we liked the most was not necessarily the steer we would buy.  Price came into the decision-making process…when it was our own money at stake!

When my husband, Matt, and I operated our feedyard in Australia, Japanese customers wanted our beef.  And we were happy to sell it to them, of course.  But we didn’t give the beef away.  We had to cover our costs of production and make some profit to justify our time, risk, and investment.

About four times a year, we would get a call from one of our Japanese customers asking us to provide hormone-free, antibiotic-free beef.  Matt and I would work up the numbers, call them back and say, “Yes, we can do it.  And the price will be $X.XX per kilogram (significantly higher than the good-quality product we were providing already).  Every time, the Japanese buyer would call back and say, “We’ll just stick with your normal 150-day feed beef, Mateo-San!”

Matt in Japan with one of our lovely customers.

We were happy to give the customer what he wanted.  He then had to choose what he wanted given a certain price.

This is how things work in a free market.  Consumer preferences are exhibited every minute of every hour of every day through price.  Producers respond accordingly.  This is as it should be.

But what happens when the critical link between producer and consumer is broken?  Imagine all beef producers being forced to contribute to one organization that then speaks on behalf of everyone in the beef supply chain. The treasured “single voice” is achieved.  This organization is now “The Beef Industry.”

Imagine now that “Industry,” on behalf of all beef producers, commits to stopping the use of implants (hormone growth promotants, or HGPs) in response to media and activist campaigns against the use of HGPs in beef production.  The campaign claims that this is what the customer wants.  And of course, we must always give the customer what he wants.  The customer, after all, is always right.

In this case, both consumer and producer will suffer, because choice is removed from the equation.  (Ironically, the “environment” suffers, too, because we are foregoing a technology that allows us to produce more food using fewer natural resources.)  No more do consumers get to choose between non-HGP-treated higher-cost beef and HGP-treated lower cost beef.  This, of course, hurts beef customers.

But because those customers will then cut back on beef consumption due to the higher cost, producers will see a decrease in the quantity of beef demanded.  This will effectively bring the market price back down.  Producers will end up with higher production costs and lower market prices.  That means decreased profitability.

The customer IS always right.  But in order for the market to work, he must have all of the information – product and price – free of bastardization by government or outside pressure groups, in order to express his preferences.

Under the guise of “protecting the industry,” though, top-down mandates on how (not) to produce take away consumers’ choice and producers’ ability to adapt to true market demand.

Contra our goal of “win-win,” this is wholly a lose-lose scenario.  Unfortunately, it seems to be the scenario playing out.

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Ahh, The Dreaded Carrot Approach

I saw this type of approach in Australia.  Farmers voluntarily entered into some agreement in exchange for a nebulous promise (Note:  Always get everything in writing!!).  Then they find out at some point down the road that their private land is no longer theirs to do with what they please.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) chief Dave White and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) director Dan Ashe announced Sept. 17 an agreement that will provide long-term regulatory predictability for up to 30 years to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) Initiative. Participants voluntarily implement conservation practices designed to protect wildlife habitat, including several at risk species and vulnerable game species on private lands.  (h/t Feedstuffs Foodlink)

For more information about WLFW, visit http://go.usa.gov/rsUj.

If private property owners are so bad at taking care of wildlife and habitat, then how could there possibly be any wildlife or habitat left to protect?

I love ag.  I love freedom.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service don’t fit well in my pro-ag, pro-freedom world.

Banned…!

I got myself banned from a Facebook page…the first time ever!

I’m a farm girl…an agvocate…fighting environmental and animal rights activists online and in person.  Did I get banned from a Greenpeace page?  HSUS?  PETA?  WWF?  No.

The ban came from Feedstuffs Foodlink (FF), supposedly a pro-agriculture Facebook page which enjoys remnant credibility due to the respected magazine Feedstuffs.  Intriguing.

After I was banned, this was posted by FF:

Feedstuffs Foodlink (23 September 2012):  Respectful, positive and fact-based conversations is what we are all about. If you can’t do that or your intentions are otherwise motivated, quite simply you will be blocked.

Well, that’s interesting.  My last comment on the page was in response to continued heavy promotion by FF of Fair Oaks Pig Adventure, a project of Fair Oaks Farms, which Wayne Pacelle of HSUS visited and commented on relatively favorably earlier in the month.

Feedstuffs Foodlink (Earlier on 23 September 2012):  Legacy Farm / Fair Oaks Pig Adventure is taking shape! Plan is for pigs to move in sometime in December. Doors open to the public in first part of 2013…. and very, very cool interactive displays in the works. Love it!!

Upon finally drilling down on Fair Oaks Farm’s website, I found that they boasted milk and milk products from cows which had not been treated with hormones or antibiotics.

I commented something like this (it was removed):  Do you know what they do with the calves and cows that get sick?  Do they shoot them, let them die on their own, or treat them and sell them?

I thought this was a fact-based, logical question.  I am really curious.  Surely a journalist would respect the question.  In addition, FF is promoting the idea of all producers being open and honest and sharing everything with the public!  Am I the only one to see a wee bit of irony here?

Okay, so maybe there is more behind FF banning me.  The day before:

Feedstuffs Foodlink (22 September 2012):  Pretty darn cool.. one of our recent articles on the changes to the school meals program was picked up this morning in a newsletter for health and wellness professionals. 🙂

Janet Hufnagel Thompson Wow! Which article? Link to newsletter please?

Friday at 11:41am

Feedstuffs FoodLink Someone forwarded it to me so I don’t have a link. Working on trying to get signed up if I’m able.

Friday at 11:44am

Tom Tibbits Awesome for both reaching some in that profession and for having the article picked up.

Friday at 12:16pm · 1

Janet Hufnagel Thompson What’s the name of the newsletter? Which recent article from Feedstuffs FoodLink got picked up?

Friday at 12:57pm · 1

Janet Hufnagel Thompson Any luck on figuring out which of your own articles was picked up? Any luck on figuring out what the name of the newsletter is? I’d love to read it.

My query was never answered.  Why?  Isn’t it strange that FF would boast about this, and then refuse to share any additional information?  I was curious, but her evasiveness ratcheted me up to “suspicious.”

What does not show up on the above chain is FF’s intervening comment (which she promptly deleted) and my reply (also deleted).  I had a feeling that this wasn’t going well, so I took a picture of the screen:

Strange disappearances

In case you can’t read that, Feedstuffs wrote and immediately deleted:  Why so you can go attack it in front of health and wellness professionals, Janet….Think not.

Do you think that banning honest discussions within our industry is a good thing? Can we question what people “above us” are doing in the name of agriculture?

I’m shocked and disappointed that here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, I’ve been banned…by my own industry!…because I asked good questions and aimed for transparency.  Once the shock and disappointment wear off, I’ll pursue my growing suspicion.

We are constantly told that we must speak with one voice in agriculture.  But only Communist countries speak with one voice.  What does Feedstuffs Foodlink fear from one small voice like mine?

Naked Emperors and Pachyderms in the Room

The emperor has no clothes and there are several elephants in the room.  It’s about time somebody said it.

I was raised on a cattle ranch along the Red River in Oklahoma.

I like to live life to the fullest.

I have:

  • studied,
  • worked for small businesses,
  • worked for large corporations,
  • worked for Government,
  • owned my own business,
  • dehorned cattle,
  • helped people with their finances,
  • castrated cutting bulls,
  • banked large agri-businesses,
  • pulled calves,
  • sold meat to Asian buyers,
  • washed water tanks,
  • been a public speaker,
  • butchered animals,
  • birthed 4 children,
  • set corner posts, stretched barbed wire and pounded T-posts,
  • written articles, a play and a book,
  • run breakevens and cash flow projections and budget/actual comparisons,
  • perfomed government policy analysis,
  • represented my fellow community members in local government, and
  • married a really good man,

among other things, in various locations around the world (although not all at the same time and place!).

I believe in individual human beings and their sacred rights to life, liberty and property.

I believe that with freedom, producers will continue to feed and clothe and shelter the world.

I know that there are, unfortunately, environmental and animal rights and other activists all over the world who are working to crush individual freedom and to stop agricultural productivity.

Worst of all, though, I know that the people who are supposed to be on our side…many industry organizations, departments of agriculture, agricultural colleges, media, and even other producers…as they maintain their cushy seats at the table inside whatever cozy tent they insist “we” must stay in, are feeding real producers to the wolves.

I’m here to shine the light of truth into dark areas where normal, every-day, hard-working people are not supposed to even be, let alone speak of.

I love ag.  And I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit by and let busybody, self-absorbed control freaks ruin it for future generations.

I’d appreciate your help.