In a series of meetings that kicked off in February in Chadron, the Nebraska Cattlemen have discovered several general trends when it comes to the issue of brand inspection. Those trends lead NC executive vice president Michael Kelsey to believe that expanding or eliminating the current brand inspection area is unlikely to happen.
Kelsey presented some of the information the NC has gathered at a meeting at Crawford Livestock last week. The NC hosted 16 meetings across the state this year – three of which were outside the current brand inspection area – and accepted comments through letters, emails, faxes and phone calls.
“We’ve received a tremendous amount of input,” Kelsey said.
The issue of brand inspection and the brand inspection area, which covers only part of Nebraska, was brought before the NC membership at the 2010 convention when two members proposed eliminating brand inspection. The resolution was tabled by the general membership and the organization was instead directed to gather more information, Kelsey explained.
That process began with that meeting in February, and local producers asked the association to return to the area and report what it learned. The Crawford meeting was an effort to keep that promise, Kelsey said.
While the data has not yet been quantified, Kelsey said there are several general trends that came from the input the NC has gathered.
1)There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about brand law, and a lot of producers are unaware of programs offered by the Nebraska Brand Committee. For example, one seed stock producer sells about 15 bulls by private treaty each year, usually in lots of one or two head. He thought he had to have the brand inspector out to his ranch each time, but there is a program that would allow him to have them inspected all at once and then sell them as the time comes, Kelsey said. “We need to do a better job of educating our members.”
2)Brand inspection is viewed as a service by some but as a regulation or burden by others. In general, those who like the inspection process view it as a service and those who don’t like it view it as a burden or regulation. “As we moved closer to the (brand inspection) line, this got very pronounced,” Kelsey said. In general, non-confined producers view inspection as a service, while feeders have a more negative view.
That being said, Kelsey doesn’t want the industry to allow the issue to cause divisiveness amongst its members.
“Let’s not make this a versus issue … cow-calf versus feeder, east versus west, big versus small. If we do that all we’re going to do is fight.”
Instead, Kelsey said the industry needs to find ways to accommodate each segment of the industry. One feeder told the NC that while he doesn’t need brand inspection service he can see where other settings of the cattle industry couldn’t operate without it.
“It’s a very inexpensive form of insurance” was a popular comment from those who like brand inspection, while “It’s a tax” was a common refrain from those who don’t like it, Kelsey said.
3)Cattle are moving from east to west in this state in greater numbers than they used to. One cattleman suggested a permitting process to eliminate the hassle of brand inspection in certain situations. That producer moved cows west to graze and then back east to “home” in the fall, Kelsey said. The two places happen to be across the brand inspection line, and the movement requires inspection. A permitting process for these types of situations could eliminate the need for inspection while still upholding the integrity of the brand inspection line.
4)Producers are concerned about fairness. Kelsey said they heard “whatever you do, it has to be fair” numerous times. “But what is fair? Fair is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. There were lots of definitions for fairness but little consensus.
5)Producers suggested some kind of self-certification program, especially for small lots of cattle. Under this type of program, if cattlemen were selling fewer than a certain number of head they could purchase the inspection documents from the Brand Committee, both buyer and seller would have to sign them and the Brand Committee would get a copy. This could also decrease costs to the Brand Committee because inspectors would not be traveling to inspect those cattle.
6)The Brand Committee needs to be able to recover its costs, not only for inspections but for the recovery of strays. Raising registration and inspection fees was suggested, as was the idea of making producers who live outside the inspection area pay for the recovery of their cattle. Kelsey said cattlemen pointed out that producers outside of the inspection area may have stray cattle recovered inside the inspection area through an inspection process but aren’t paying for that service.
7)There were also a lot of ideas for tiered programs, Kelsey said, with different pay structures based on various criteria, such as the size of the herd or the point of sale.
Many of the ideas proposed to the cattlemen – permitting, self-certification, tiered programs – will require more thought and discussion.
“The devil is in the details,” Kelsey said.
It’s important to note, he continued, that not everyone who believes inspection is a burden wants to eliminate the process. Often times they just want changes made to make it less of a burden. Likewise, those who are in favor of inspection still see ways the program can be improved.
The NC will take the data it’s accumulated to its membership at its annual convention Dec. 7-9 in Kearney. Members will be able to propose policy based on that information, Kelsey explained. The proposal to eliminate the inspection area that was tabled last year can be brought forth again by the membership and either be advanced or killed or it can be left on the table indefinitely and different resolutions can be proposed.
Any changes the NC membership agrees to support, however, must receive legislative approval in the Unicameral before the Nebraska Brand Committee can implement them. With that in mind, Kelsey said he believes it’s unlikely that the brand inspection line would be moved in any direction at this time.
“You never say never in politics,” he said, “but politically I think it’s going to be a tough, tough deal to move the line.”
It takes 25 senators to move a bill forward in the Unicameral. There are 38 senators who live outside of the brand inspection area and 11 than reside within the brand inspection area. There are enough producers outside of the brand inspection area who do not want it extended to prevent most of the 38 eastern senators from voting for making brand inspection mandatory across the entire state, Kelsey said.
“I don’t know anybody who has the political prowess to get that done,” he said.
To move the line in the opposite direction to the Wyoming border, essentially eliminating brand inspection within the state, also faces problems. No western senator will introduce that bill, Kelsey said.
“So you have to look to the senators in the east. Why do they care?”
Individual counties can approach the Unicameral about being added to the brand inspection area.