Tag Archives: farm

Selecting Land

My good friend, Greg Judy, who actually has a Youtube channel to which you can subscribe for his interesting and informative videos about farming/ranching and a whole host of other topics related to profitable cattle and sheep farming, has offered up some key points for considering land purchases for your specific goals.

Greg’s check list when selecting a farm.

The check list really hasn’t changed in considerations for the purchase throughout history.

Cato’s list has more detail and although he uses the word ‘folly’ in what other people build (like barns for livestock), it can be used in your favor should you need a new or nice home or are considering a dairy operation or some such. Yet, the basic consideration is, does my operation actually require the use of a high maintenance, taxable building which sits empty most of the year.

Buying undeveloped land may seem less expensive, but bear in mind the high cost of making it livestock worthy (or whatever it is you will use your land for). Perimeter fencing is expensive made even more so if hiring a bulldozer to clear the fence rows first is necessary.

As we get older, land which may be more expensive yet closer to a hospital or at least a sealed road will likely become more important.

If you are so fortunate to find a reasonably price parcel in the location important you, with limited buildings, then don’t wait because someone else will buy it. Desirable parcels of property are snapped up very fast. My observations of looking for properties, indicates that poor properties are offered at ridiculous prices just hoping for someone to bite; quality, in-demand properties will sell immediately and land auctions are becoming more popular due to immediate sell and they are bringing a premium price.

If the neighbours aren’t interested in the property and it has been languishing on the market, that is a red flag that something is wrong – do in depth research. Oftentimes, it can be high taxes, poor production values, swampy land, no water, low rainfall, the lay of the land requires constant maintenance (i have a 160 like that, every little rain causes my deep watergaps to blow out, fighting encroaching brush is an annual and long days event)

My personal search requires:

  1. enough acreage in one block location with minimal perimeter (in other words more squarish, not nooks and crannies. one property online had 11 miles of perimeter to maintain yet enclosing only 1700 acres!)
  2. A nice home which has been built with finishes which stand the test of time. Too many homes from the 80s and 90s and so faddish inside, it needs to be completely gutted and redone. May be better to tear it down and start again. Not out of the range of possibility, just be sure you aren’t paying twice for a new home.
  3. Live water with no or little flood plain.
  4. Located on a sealed road with minimal traffic
  5. Near infrastructure to livestock auctions and other supportive ranch venues
  6. Warm winters, warm winters, warm winters – did i mention warm winters?!
  7. Minimal timber and very little brush.
  8. I would like to not be close enough to neighbors to hear or see them, but within 2 hours of a major airport.
  9. Price is critical – i’m not rich – the ranch i buy must find a way to pay for itself or at the least provide a good rate of return. This is nearly impossible in today’s environment where there is very little low risk good investment. Land is in too expensive for its productive value.

Intentional Beef Producer

Robert Wells, Livestock Consultant with the Noble Research Institute offers his idea of 8 characteristics successful, intentional producers share.

For the full article go to: Do You Possess the 8 Characteristics of an Intentional Beef Producer? as published in the January 2020 issue of Noble News and Views.

To keep me focused, i like to reduce the lengthy description of characteristics to 8 bullet points.

  1. Understand the importance of recordkeeping. The key is to keep records that are meaningful and that you will use to make management decisions. Identify key production and economic metrics you can use to monitor your operation.
  2. Know animal nutrition management can make or break an operation. The feeding program can account for 40% to 60% of the total annual cost of maintaining a cow in most operations. Match the cow’s time of highest nutrient requirements – early lactation or around 2 months of calf age – to the time of year when the pastures supply the highest-quality and quantity forage of the year.
  3. Know when and how to market calves. Determine the type of animal you will sell and when you will sell it. No matter how large your outfit is, it can still benefit from selling in a market that has more cattle similar to yours.
  4. Have a defined outcome for the ranch breeding program. Make sure the calving season is as tight as possible, ideally 60 days or less. If you are a commercial producer, consider the value of heterosis and the advantages built into a well-defined and thought-out crossbreeding program. Identify which individuals which will help reach your goals.
  5. Have a comprehensive herd health program. Work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive vaccination and herd health program. If you do not have documentation, you cannot prove how your cattle were immunized.
  6. Optimize stocking rate and pasture management. Forages in various paddocks need appropriate rest periods. A cost effective grazing principle is to use standing dormant forages instead of hay during the dormant season.
  7. Develop a ranch management calendar. The management calendar should include the following dates: bull turn-in and pickup (hence subsequent calving dates), weaning and marketing dates, when to work calves for vaccinations, when to conduct breeding soundness evaluations (for bulls, cows, and heifers). Evaluate and plan the grazing program, knowing that changes will be necessary as the year progresses.
  8. Remain flexible. Above all else, an intentional producer will learn to be flexible, since so many variables are out of one’s control. Having a plan, working the plan, but pivoting as needed.

CATO – Duties of the Overseer

My part 3 of Marcus Porcius Cato, who died 149 BC and had great thoughts on establishing and running a successful farm or ranch as recorded in Forgotten Books.

Duties of Overseer:

  1. maintain discipline
  2. observe feast days
  3. respect the rights of others and uphold his own
  4. settle all quarrels/administer punishment
  5. make sure no one is in want to easily prevent picking and stealing

The overseer should not permit wrong-doing by others and show appreciation for courtesy. He should not be given to conviviality, but should always be sober. He should keep his hands busy and see that the master’s bidding is done and not think he knows more than the master. The master’s friends should be his friends and give heed to those whom the master has recommended. He should confine his religious practices to Sunday or to his own house.

Lend money to no man unbidden by the master, but what the master has lent he should collect. Never lend any seed reserved for sowing, feed, corn, wine, or oil, but should have relations with other farms to make exchanges in emergencies. His accounts should be discussed frequently with his master.

He should not keep any hired men or day hands longer than is necessary. He should not sell anything without the knowledge of the master nor conceal anything from the master.

He should have no hangers-on, nor consult any soothsayer, fortune teller, necromancer, or astrologer. He should not spare seed in sowing for that is bad economy. He should strive to be expert in all kinds of farm work, and, without exhausting himself, often lend a hand. He will better understand the work and sleep more refreshingly.

First up in the morning, he should be the last to go to bed at ngiths; and before he does, he should see that the farm gates are closed, and the each of the hands is in his own bed, that the stock have been fed. He should pay the highest compliments to the teamsters who keep their oxen in best condition. Make certain that plows and plow shares are kept in good repair, planning ample time for for farm work so nothing is done late.

During rainy times, find something to do rather than remain idle. Clean up.

“Remember that while work may stop, expenses still go on.”

Keeping Busy

With Total Grazing best case scenario being a 4 x move per day (about every 2 hours), what in the world can i do to keep busy in between those scheduled moves? Like being at home, a farm always has something that needs doing. During this unusually kind weather we are enjoying this December, I’ve been primarily cutting trees that are in the wrong place and when i get tired of running the chainsaw, i haul all the bits and pieces of brush to a pile to burn, and when i get too tired to do that, i start walking around the grazed portions and snip little sprouts.

As my cows and calves total graze the paddocks, they leave behind these thorny Locust sprouts which are easy to see, snip, and treat so they don’t grow huge!

Honey Locust trees can grow as tall as 98 feet with circumference 15 feet! (and i have some that big) Covered with extremely sharp thorns up to 12 inches long. The honey locust is aggressive and invasive. A constant battle is necessary to keep them from taking over.
This is about as big of a tree i want to cut down. Any bigger and i’m too intimidated by its size, my lack of experience, plus my little 18 inch bar Stihl chainsaw.
Trying to control the direction of the fall.
Always a relief when the tree falls where you want it and safely.
It was a big job to get all that honey locust cut up and dragged to the burn pile. As green as the wood is, it will take several goes to finally get it burnt. But the tree is down and stump treated. On to the next!

Mineral Tub

Many people can really problem solve – oftentimes, problem solving happens using tools at hand and at the moment.  May not be perfect, but the creativity involved in taking mental inventory of what tools you have with you and laying them in such an order no where close to what they are designed for illustrates the amazing thought processes of the human mind.  Truly, that is not an accident but a purposeful design of our Creator.

Well, with that lead in, you’d think i would share something just truly amazing and complex, yet it’s not.  Simply using junk we have around the barn fashioned in such manner to solve a problem i personally have.  Our 3 compartment mineral pans are somewhat heavy and certainly cumbersome, so i choose to never pick it up to move it.  Obviously, if there is kelp, salt, and phosphorus inside totally negates that proposition.  I had made a previous drag design, but it would only last about 16 months.  Hoping this new design will last much longer.

For years, we’ve been using a 3 compartment mineral tub.  In mine, i use YPS free salt, Thorvin Kelp, and Agri-Dynamic‘s Grazier’s Essential in the 1:2 ratio (Ca-Ph).*  All free choice.

Although the mineral tubs empty are not super heavy, they are bulky and awkward to lift and load and if there is any product still inside, it’s virtually impossible for me to load it.  So, years ago, i came up with a way to move it without lifting it instead by dragging.  After about 3 years, i’ve given up with the first method i invented because it kept failing about once a year and i’d need to rebuild it, so, i came up with a new plan.  Simpler and easier to replace or repair should the need arise.

  • i purchase the salt from ……, the kelp from Welter Seed & Honey, and the Calcium-Phosphorus mix from Agri-Dynamics north Missouri representative Shan Christopher
  • MISSOURI DEALERS/DISTRIBUTORS

    Rafter C. Ranch, Distributor

    Shan Christopher1441 SE Hwy 116

    Polo, MO 64671

    816-519-8512

    sjdchris@greenhills.net

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I cut a flat piece of old plastic  from a trashed calf feeding trough.  the flat piece is slightly larger in diameter than the mineral tub so that i can bolt it through the sidewall of the tub onto the plastic.  i cut old baling belts for the straps and use carriage head bolts so it will pull smoothly.

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I still use a short chain with a large ring at one end and a heavy duty carabiner clip on the other for quick hookup.

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Bolt old pieces of baler belts from the mineral tub to the plastic drag.

Mineral tub kelp

Mineral tub with salt

Mineral tub with Phosphorus

Starting a Ranch – Is it Viable?

Here’s another great blog by Dallas Mount who owns Ranching Consultants (Ranching for Profit).  He outlines the start up costs of beginning a ranch.  It’s never been easy to ranch or farm – even when US government was giving away land.  Most of that land was harsh and unforgiving and many families were starved off trying to make a living.  However, there have a been a very few years in the last century which might have made purchasing land to farm a viable option.  At today’s land prices, that is not an option.  Prices are way out of whack in regards to its agricultural productivity.

bakingCan’t be done. At least that is what conventional wisdom says. I’d agree that it can’t be done, if you follow the rules of traditional ranching – running cows the way everyone else does and owning everything. If you are willing to break some rules and challenge conventional wisdom maybe you can join the amazing group of people that have done it.

Let’s look at the economics of conventional wisdom for starting a ranch from scratch. You’ll need land. Of course, if you want to be a real rancher (so the thinking goes) you’ll need to own it. If you are going to ranch full time, you’ll need enough cows to support a family so let’s plan to buy a ranch that will run 400 cows. In much of ranching country, the rule of thumb is 35 acres per cow. Let’s push that to 40 and ask those cows to graze year-round.

The value of the land will be driven by things other than its forage producing value. Generally aesthetic value and proximity to a metropolitan center will drive the land values. Let’s say we found a ranch that will sell for $600/acre. We will need 16,000 acres so our purchase will be about 9.6 million. Of course, we need to own the cow herd as well. 400 cows, 16 bulls and 80 heifers will cost us about $700,000 in today’s market and we will need an arsenal of machines so let’s add another $300,000 to make it a round $1 million for livestock and machines.

If we find a bank willing to finance all of this, we will likely need to come up with 20% down at least. So we will need about 2 million for the land and $200,000 for the livestock and machines. It just so happens our great aunt just died leaving us 2.2 million! Now all we have to do is service the remaining debt! Should be easy right? If the bank finances the land at 5% for 20 years and the cows and machines for 5 years at 7% that will leave us with a payment of about $600,000 per year on the land and about $200,000 on the cow/machine note.

If we divide our total payments of $800,000 by our 400 cows then each cow will need to generate $2,000 annually for debt service not to mention covering her bills for feed, vet, trucking, and all the other overheads. We better wean some big calves! Are you ready to buy yet? Maybe we should just sit in the coffee shop and complain about all of this? Oh … I know … it’s the banker’s fault for charging interest!

Hopefully this demonstrates that ranching the conventional way is not a realistic path to ranching from scratch. So what is? Firstly, I think it is important that we make a separation in our minds from operating a ranching business and owning land. After all, you can run 1,000 cows and not own a single acre of land, and you can own a million acres of land and not own one cow! Being in the land investment business and being in the livestock business are two separate businesses. The land investment can be a great place to park money and enjoy appreciation and wealth building over time. It can be a terrible place to park money when you need cash flow.

At the Ranching for Profit School, we teach an economic planning process that requires any livestock you run to pay fair-market rent for the grass they consume. Not including this in your planning essentially subsidizes your livestock enterprises with free grass from your land business. Conversely, asking cows to make your land payment might subsidize your land investment by overcharging your livestock business.  You must do the economics right to know where you are creating value. If you want to buy land, let’s establish a profit target that you will need to achieve to reach your goals and develop a business around that profit target.

Many of our alumni get into ranching from scratch by custom grazing cattle on leased land. This is often a model with a strong cash flow and can allow the operator to build reserves that can be used to invest in livestock or real estate. This certainly isn’t a utopia. There are the challenges of finding leases, managing landowners, developing good grazing infrastructure and many others. The skills necessary to be successful in this path include:

  • People Skills – managing landowners, marketing yourself as a lessee and custom grazer, putting a team together to do the day-to-day.
  • Grazing Skills – planning, implementing and monitoring land health and reporting back to landowners.
  • Economics and Finance – planning for profit, budgeting, and cash flow management.
  • Livestock Handling – leading your team or managing yourself to meet livestock performance objectives.

I’d love to hear from those of you who started from scratch. What advice would you have for someone else looking to do the same?

18 Responses to “Ranching from Scratch”

June 24, 2020 at 3:57 amjames coffelt said:

Excellent discussion

Ranching is a great life style.

Is it a great business? Peter Drucker, the great business writer, suggests every business, every idea, every activity, and every employee, should be on trial for its life, every day.

Can a ranching business succeed? Yes, and there are plenty doing it. However, that is not the right question.

We should ask: How are these assets, efforts, labor, and risk, performing relative to other alternatives?

An S + P 500 index fund has averaged a 12% return for years.

So, is the equity invested in the ranching business, cattle and land, performing better than 12% ? Note, I used the word equity, not assets for the comparison. That is, net assets.

I would suggest the following:

The only management model to consider is a low input management model. Work toward eliminating or reducing, shots, worming, tagging, calf checking, weaning, machine work, hay. Let the cows rehab the land, and produce cattle genetically fit to thrive in the all-natural survival of the fittest, model.

Work from set stocking, to rotational grazing, to mob grazing, as able. Each step is better for the land, and permits an increase in stocking rate. Stocking rate influences profitability more than any other trait, more than performance, milk, growth, marbling, etc..

Find a way to sell into premium markets. A quality animal sold by the piece is 3-4 k retail, $800 at the sale barn. That spread requires sales and marketing effort.

The land is a separate business which can include revenue from gas and oil, hunting, fishing, timber, tourism, etc..

The choice to ranch for love of lifestyle is admirable. However, it is a business which requires economic performance.

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June 24, 2020 at 4:09 am, JOSH LUCAS said:

Learn how to be an effective communicator! (Like they teach at the rfp school) Managing the landowner relationship when leasing can be challenging if you don’t communicate your goals for the property well enough.
Oh and definitely don’t buy equipment!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:07 amShelly Oswald said:

Good points but where is the marketing component where you know the intrinsic value of your products, communicate that to your customers and obtain the premium you need to be profitable without cutting corners?

The other point missed is that your approach conserves capital investment in the land and treats it like the profit center it should be. In order to conserve our farmland and keep it in the hands of our citizens, we need to be paying fair rent to ourselves or our neighbors and not asking them to subsidize the food we produce.

I love the principles you teach!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:15 am, Rebecca Patton said:

My husband and I came back to his family ranch in the hopes of developing a succession plan and being able to take over and run a successful ranching business, however, we were stuck in the paradigm that there is such a huge barrier to entry in ranching that our only opportunity to make money with cattle was to be successors to a debt free ranch. Apparently the older generation had different priorities than ranch transition, so we are now looking to break away with the new perspective that we can do what we want through custom grazing and leasing, and we have never been more excited! Thanks for sharing Profit Tips with us!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:20 am, Clint Hoelting said:

If you are going to take care of other people’s cattle on other people’s land, you might as well get a job on a ranch. Same thing, except with Custom/Lease you will have to pay for overheads a ranch hand wouldn’t.

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June 24, 2020 at 7:42 am, Justin Tollman said:

I was stuck in the “How To Own It” traffic jam for a while, and then was introduced to Ranching For Profit. In 2014, my wife and I had no ranch, and no idea how to step into a ranch, but I knew I wanted to. We went to a RFP School, and that really sparked an idea for me to set up a business plan that I could get people to buy into: Leasing a ranch!
Prior to that shift in paradigm, we were stuck. You see, I grew up on the ranch that we now lease. But, so did my sisters. It’s been in the family for over 120 years, but my parents were stuck in the asset transition trap: How do you be fair to everyone? My wife was extremely scared of going into a huge amount of debt, and quite frankly was scared of what happens if it doesn’t work.
The lease model has opened many doors! It got us unstuck. Has it been perfect? Of course not! I don’t know a ranching family that has everything go perfectly. When the all of the cattle issues go right, people issues may flare, when the people are happy, water issues might pop up, this business has a way of humbling anyone who knows everything. And then, there are always customers to deal with, and luckily almost every “contentious moment” with my customers has been built up worse in my mind than in reality. But, I’ve heard it said that people get paid by the size of the problems they can solve, so if you want paid more, choose bigger problems.
I’ve heard so much “I don’t think you can do that!” Well, my favorite saying now is “You never know what you can do until you have to.”

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June 24, 2020 at 7:44 am, john marble said:

I think the biggest roadblock to starting or maintaining a successful ranching business is the commonly-held belief that ranching is somehow different than other businesses or industries. Loving to work outside, handle livestock, smell the new-mown hay…all of that is fine, but it doesn’t have much to do with running a successful business. People who want to enter the ranching industry need to do the same things that new entrants to the gas station or motel or bowling alley business have to do: market goods and services at a profit. Not very romantic, but clearly true. Successful business people study marketing and logistics. They develop relationships with other progressive, smart operators. They avoid enterprises that lose money.

Sorry to break the new: ranching is just not that special.

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June 24, 2020 at 11:02 am, Marc Cesario said:

John – love it!

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June 24, 2020 at 8:01 am, Davene Finkbeiner said:

I started from scratch at 50 years old. Now I am 62. I followed ranching for profit Allan Nation Joel Salatin Bud Williams.Turing the ranch over to my children. It has been one hell of a ride.

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June 24, 2020 at 8:48 am, Marc Cesario said:

It’s amazing how often you can hear advice, even believe the advice that’s been given, then somehow rationalize why your situation is different. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of machinery, equipment and barns but it’s a dead end more often than not. Grass, appropriate fence and a good water system is really all what most start from scratchers should focus on.
It’s good and necessary to believe in ourselves, but too often we think we can do more than we actually can. At best, I feel we can only do two things well, and more likely it’s probably just one thing. Often multiple enterprises just drain resources from the each other. Stay focused.

The word priority was only ever used in the singular until the 1900’s. There can only be one priority.

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June 24, 2020 at 8:52 am, Marc Cesario said:

Josh- yes, Managing expectations is extremely important. underpromise and over deliver.

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June 24, 2020 at 9:54 am, Ross Macdonald said:

Don’t get caught up in a recipe, what you know today will change/evolve over the next several years.
Let your definition of profit drive your decisions and recognize that it is never perfect but with effort, desire and experience it gets much better.
Soils, grazing, stockmanship, marketing, relationships are get better if you work to make them better but it is a journey not a destination, so your definition of profit had better include happiness.

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June 24, 2020 at 11:49 am, john marble said:

Gosh, Clint, I haven’t found that to be true at all. I’ve rented quite a number of places over the years, and the amount I pay in rent has absolutely nothing to do with land overheads. On occasion, I’ve had land owners express their desire for the rent to cover property taxes or some other irrelevant item. I try to be fair with owners, but in the end I will only pay a rental rate that allows me the opportunity to make a good profit, and that is often based on running “other people’s cattle” on that rental land. Sorry, but negotiating land rentals, signing contracts on custom cattle and designing business plans that result in profit are not “hired hand” jobs. Those are business owner jobs.

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June 25, 2020 at 9:45 am, Justin M Tollman said:

I think John and Clint may be looking at two sides of the same coin. To paraphrase Clint “you’re working for someone else if you custom graze on leased land.” I will say that the thought has crossed my mind over the last 3 years that I would be better off financially if I just worked for someone else. That’s on a cash taken home basis. But, when you look at net worth vs. cash flow, that isn’t the case. To John’s point, working on the business is different than working in the business. If I didn’t want to set direction, plan my own time, work on the big picture stuff, and play the virtual 3-D chess game that is forecasting, contingency planning,etc., then yeah, working as a hired hand on an outfit might be better. But, always know, you are always working for a customer. Whether that customer is someone who writes you a paycheck for labor, or a customer who writes you a paycheck for cattle that you sell, or a customer that writes a paycheck for custom care. But, ranching from scratch, to me it’s about setting the direction, the mission and vision, the building for a brighter and easier tomorrow, and taking ownership of that process. I’m not as excited about the ownership of land or things, but the ownership of happy business partners.

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June 26, 2020 at 6:14 pm, Amber said:

I totally agree. My husband and I and our two kids lead a great life on leased land, with custom grazed cows and building our own cowherd on the side. We work for ourselves, while functioning in a great network of relationships. It is all about how you treat people.

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June 27, 2020 at 12:36 am, Graeme Bear said:

A great topic Dallas. Often the most thought provoking topics are those that challenge traditional thinking and paradigms. Love the collection of views and contributions by everyone on this one. The fundamentals of successful business are the same whether it be a cattle ranch or transport or manufacturing business, exactly the same principle apply.

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June 28, 2020 at 5:12 am, Doug Dillon said:

It can be done! I have done it twice. I purchased my first ranch in 2009 after graduating college. Purchased another ranch in 2014. Sold the first ranch in 2015. I attended two RMC schools and was in the Executive Link from 2010 until 2015. The two biggest things I think any one starting from scratch needs to keep in mind is you have to be passionate about what you are doing, it’s going to be tough. Keep you pencil sharp and make the hard decisions that make you money.

The 2nd is don’t get married to a ranch. In 2015 Mike Hall spoke at the RMC summer meeting in Laramie WY. He talked about “not being married to a ranch.” I realize not all ranches are equal, and its hard to walk away from something you have built. He talked about making your land business profitable by selling land. Its a difficult thing for most people or families to do, but if you are starting from scratch you are going to have to do some of these difficult things to generate cash to get out of debt.

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June 28, 2020 at 7:15 am, Davene Finkbeiner said:

I started from scratch 10 years ago with leased land and share cattle. I agree about selling land. Bought pasture based on its resale value and now have it listed for double the price I paid for it. When cattle prices were at there peak I did not buy more cattle I took share cattle instead and put cash into rental houses.Now they are producing a income of 1200 per month.Biggest problem in our area is I am surrounded by inheritance ranching operations who spend a lot of time trying to derail the start from scratch operations. They are especially hard on young people just getting started.I am looking for a good support group for my 2 Kids just coming into the cattle business.

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Food System is Broken

Here, Joel is describing a legislative action in his state which might help consumers and producers both.  Other states have already stepped up to make these changes.  But, the back story as to why it is needed is the interesting part of his story here.

Self ascribed ‘Lunatic Farmer’, Joel Salatin, is a gifted speaker, writer, and farmer.  He and his family operate Polyface Farms in Virginia.  His blog is a fascinating and helpful insight into the difficulties farmers and ranchers of small holdings face.  During this time of renewed interest of purchasing locally from local abattoir, I’m going to reblog those of his which address why local butcher shops and farmers do what they do and charge what they charge.  I hope the series will be helpful.  However, we are realists and know that once the huge foreign owned packers are back up and running, consumers will be back at Wal-mart buying cheap imported meat processed, in some cases, by illegal aliens.

The comments are worth reading as well, but you’ll need to click through to his blog site.

 

PRIME ACT NOW

            Yesterday I did a podcast with Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie on Free the People and the discussion turned to his 5-year-old bill the Prime Act.  It has not gotten traction until now.  In the last ten days, he’s picked up 18 co-sponsors.  That’s pretty dramatic for a bill that couldn’t get a handful for 5 years.

             People want to know what to do that would be beneficial during these disturbing times.  Here is something you can do.  Call your Congressman today–yes, just pick up the phone and call–and ask if he/she supports the Prime Act.  This simple bill would unleash the full power of regional food security on the livestock sector, which you know is in complete disarray right now.

             When CEO and legacy family member John Tyson looks at a CNN camera and says “the food system is broken,” that’s a big hairy deal.  He and his ilk have spent their lifetimes creating this system that now can’t get burgers to Wendy’s and is foaming chickens, breaking broiler eggs, dumping milk, and euthanizing hogs.  So imagine that rather than 100 mega-processing facilities around the country handling 80 percent of the meat, poultry, and dairy, we had 200,000 small facilities scattered all over, distanced, if you will, doing this processing?

             That is where the Prime Act comes in.  Right now, custom slaughter houses that do beef, pork, and lamb are under health department and USDA sanitation oversight, but they do not have an inspector or the inspector’s paperwork on site.  These abattoirs service a person who brings in a live animal and wants it custom processed, like if you wanted to commission a woodworker to make a special table for your dining room.  Without all the onerous inspection paperwork and under-foot bureaucrats, these smaller community-based abattoirs can operate easier and cheaper.

             Inspection requires a host of additional licensing, infrastructure, paperwork (Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point), bathrooms, inspector offices, and even prescribed hours of operation.  Minimal compliance to get a license, even for the smallest plant, is estimated at an average $1 million.  That’s a high entry fee.

             As a result, right now in most counties, including mine (Augusta) you cannot raise a cow and legally sell a pound of ground beef from that animal to a neighbor without exporting it to another county with an inspected facility and re-importing it.  But our county has a couple of operating small custom abattoirs within minutes of our local farms.  We used to have a dozen when I was a kid.  They can’t legally sell you a pound of ground beef; you have to buy at least a quarter of beef at a time.  That’s a $500 entry fee to buy local.

             The Prime Act simply says that custom slaughtered meat can be sold within the state.  Why should everyone who wants to get neighborhood raised and processed meat be required to buy it in $500 increments?  What if a neighbor only wants  T-bone and a pound of ground?  What if the neighbor doesn’t have a chest freezer?  The current regulations are both price and poverty discriminatory.  In addition, they force massive unnecessary transportation energy and time.

             What about food safety?  Folks, recalls come from the big plants, not these small custom places.  A burger patty at McDonald’s has pieces of 600 cows in it; a burger patty from a custom house has only one cow in it.  The risks are exponentially less in a smaller, community-based facility.  Scale exemptions exist throughout our country, from day care to elder care to requirements to provide medical insurance to employees.  Scale does matter.

             Congressman Massie told me yesterday that many former operators of these small facilities have assured him that the day the Prime Act passes, they will re-open their doors and gladly solve the processing bottleneck in our broken food system.  Few legislative initiatives could offer a more simple, comprehensive assurance of food security and marketplace competition to the 100 mega-processors that dominate our dysfunctional food chain.  It’s the Prime Act.  Massie says don’t email and don’t write a letter.  Call; he says if 12 people call on a subject, they own their congressman on that issue.

             Will you be part of the solution?

Faith, Family, Farm

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