Agribusiness Freedom Foundation  
Home arrow Latest Op/Ed Release arrow February 2005 arrow Two Conventions A Study In Contrasts
Main Menu
About AFF
Latest Op/Ed Release
Sentinel e-Newsletter
Newsletter Signup
Staff Bios
Make A Contribution
Contact Us
Two Conventions A Study In Contrasts PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Sunday, 13 February 2005

Having recently just attended both the R-CALF and the Cattle Industry annual conventions - the latter where NCBA, the CBB, ANCW, Cattle-Fax and National Cattlemen's Foundation meet - I was struck by the contrasts I observed.

The obvious first comparison, of course, is sheer size. At the national R-CALF convention, there were never more than 100 cattlemen in the room at any time during the three days. At NCBA-CBB joint sessions, thousands of cattlemen crammed huge theaters and ballrooms. Committee sessions had 25 to 50 people in attendance setting policy. Their joint board of directors' meeting had twice the number of people as R-CALF's "all-in" sessions. NCBA, CBB and ANCW registered over 6,000 attendees. I couldn't find any convention report information on R-CALF's Web site two weeks after their convention.

Of course, for those of you who haven't attended NCBA and CBB conventions, it should be said that information is presented in both separate policy and checkoff sessions as well as jointly. But only dues-paying NCBA members can vote on policy issues and only CBB board members can vote on checkoff items.

It appears obvious from the numbers that the NCBA-CBB-ANCW groups enjoy an overwhelming share of the support of U.S. cattlemen compared to R-CALF. And it is ludicrous for R-CALF to imply - as it does by claiming that NCBA is just a tool of the major packers - that all these cattlemen turned out in San Antonio just to soldier on, on behalf of the packers.

R-CALF had very little committee activity at all during their convention. The only committee scheduled for a real meeting was an International Trade Committee, and they met just before the end of convention, after final policy had been adopted. NCBA-CBB has dozens of subcommittee and committee sessions where policy and priorities are set before the board and membership sessions vote. And the committees get input from lots of sources as part of the decision-making process.

And while NCBA President Jan Lyons pointedly reminded USDA Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns that there were several points in the Canadian Rule on which NCBA had serious concerns, the notation was done in a firm but professional manner that indicated a willingness to listen and NCBA's intention to justify its positions with facts. That left USDA the room to respond, explain and adjust if necessary. By contrast, USDA officials were insulted and their integrity questioned from the floor of the R-CALF meeting.

In fact, NCBA's extensive subcommittee and committee approach, routed to a resolutions committee and then board and membership meetings, resulted in a detailed, 11-point resolution on the Canadian issue. Printed copies of over 100 resolutions were ready for the membership to review and vote on.

By contrast, at the R-CALF convention resolutions were considered from the floor, evidently with no preliminary work done by a resolutions committee at all. No printed copies of the proposed resolutions were available at the door of the session. Several of the roughly dozen resolutions were withdrawn by their authors or held for study because of confusion as to whether policy already existed or because there was another resolution being proposed that dealt with the same issue. Evidently their resolutions committee either never met or is not empowered to do much work on proposed resolutions.

Many of the R-CALF resolutions evidently came from individual members rather than from a committee. They put the proposed resolutions up on a screen and discussed and amended each of them from the floor. As one member commented, if their members were in the least conformists, there would be no need for an R-CALF to exist. Consequently, they spent over two hours working over a half-dozen resolutions, deleting phrases, adding phrases, re-inserting deleted phrases, questioning the appropriateness of the resolution itself, etc., etc. The chairwoman of the session had no easy time refereeing such a messy procedure. Keeping track of which amendment or version was on the floor was confusing. The suggestion from the floor that next time the employment of a professional parliamentarian might be advised was met with a stony silence from the chair.

One member, perhaps making an oblique reference to the chaos, suggested that maybe R-CALF should have a committee study a more appropriate organizational structure and perhaps even examine the idea of term limits for officers. That too was met with stony silence. After all, I believe it was President Leo McDonnell himself who noted during R-CALF's RFD television show that R-CALF did not have any nominating committees "so no possible mischief" could occur in selecting candidates.  McDonnell has been president since the organization's inception in 1998.

But I suspect many of the members rather preferred the chaos of a 100-member resolutions committee to what they would consider the overly secretive and too undemocratic structure of a committee.

But watching a bunch of non-conformists who can't decide whether they are anarchists or not, work through a handful of resolutions from the floor, was illustrative of the people involved. And R-CALF members are not really anarchists - they don't believe that there should be no government. But they do believe that government should not necessarily carry out the wishes of the majority. They want it to carry out their own wishes, even if they are in the minority. And they want government to protect their vision of the cattle industry - they are not interested in the "beef" industry - at the expense of other industry sectors they do not like.

In fact, they even want protection from other cattlemen, cattlemen whose innovations are designed to improve industry efficiency and attune beef products more closely with consumer demand.  They are demanding that government agencies and Congress protect them from market requirements, business practices or competition they deem unfair.

The over 100 resolutions considered at the NCBA session covered a wide array of the total interaction of cattlemen with the world. Some R-CALF members would counter that they only concentrate on one or two areas of cattlemen's interests and, consequently, wouldn't be expected to have so many resolutions.

Perhaps that is part of the problem. R-CALF cannot see the forest for the trees, does not have much perspective. It has demonstrated a total lack of interest in most of the rest of the world everyone else lives in - including their customers, particularly those buyers of live cattle, packers - and those who try to use cattle as a raw material. The members at their convention who so fiercely defend the cow-calf producer at the exclusion of everyone else somehow believe they exist in a vacuum, requiring no meaningful interaction with the rest of the world.  They regard as unfair and unreasonable any demands from the marketplace that they should have to worry about anything after the ranch gate.

And since the rest of the world has demonstrated an overwhelming rejection of that notion, they have turned to brute force, in the form of legal action and unholy alliances, to prove to the world that they - the producers of the raw material - should call the tune.

The two conventions just reinforce the vast chasm between the two approaches.

Email your comments to the author


Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 June 2006 )
< Previous
designed by