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Published August 13, 2012, 10:19 AM

On the menu

If you’re not at the table, you risk being on the menu.

By: J.D. Alexander, Agweek

WASHINGTON — If you’re not at the table, you risk being on the menu.

It’s a phrase you will hear a lot in the course of my term as National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president. As cattle producers, we have never faced more exciting opportunities or more risk than we do now.

We have come a long way as an industry, and as an organization, in the past year. The spirit and energy we saw in Nashville, Tenn., as more than 8,200 cattlemen and women gathered at the annual Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show to shape the future of this industry was a testament to how far we have come and it gave me a sense of encouragement about our shared opportunities.

As an industry, there are significant challenges ahead of us, and it is important for each and every one of you to be involved at the local, state and national levels as we work to protect this business and ensure our opportunity to pass growing and stable operations onto the next generation of beef producers.

At NCBA, we are working hard to eliminate the estate tax. If Congress fails to act, estate tax levels will revert to $1 million exemption threshold with assets exceeding that level being taxed at a 55 percent rate.

Let’s face it in today’s environment; it doesn’t take a lot of land, cattle or equipment to quickly exceed the value exemptions. With the help of cattlemen and women and NCBA’s state affiliates, we are pushing for the total elimination of this harmful and outdated tax. There are many operations that are second-, third-, fourth- and in some cases even fifth-generation businesses. What we have received as a result of our forefathers we ought to be allowed to pass onto the next generation without being penalized. We must be able to do that if we are going to protect our rural communities and help the next generation return to the ranch and thrive.

Next generation

We are going to need the next generation to return if we are going to meet the challenge of a growing global population. We are already faced with a shrinking supply of cattle, which has been further diminished by drought and other factors. While we cannot force herd growth, we need to create an environment where producers are willing and able to expand when the market signals dictate, rather than trying to unduly influence growth that becomes unsustainable in the future.

We expect our cowboys at home to be able to spot a sick steer before it is sick. At NCBA, we rely on our team in Washington, D.C., to be able to do the same thing. We need them to be able to identify potentially damaging rules, regulations and legislation and push back on those items that would be harmful to our sustainability.

We are working to craft a farm bill that levels the playing field for all of us, one that doesn’t pit us, as producers, against each other. We continue to seek fair standards for each of us along the production chain and we are working hard to fully implement the free trade agreements NCBA worked so long and hard to get signed last year.

At the same time, our team is working to make certain all of our trading partners are in full compliance with internationally recognized, science-based standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health. We’ve got safe beef — period. We want standards that are based on science, not guesswork or hunches so we can compete in the world market.

None of us gets to pick or choose the battles we are going to face. But I can assure you that our team at NCBA, with the constant help from state affiliates, is prepared to face those battles on your behalf. We won’t sit on the fence or back away because something looks too tough. We have a set of policies, based on the marching orders provided by our grassroots and we will follow that policy, but we are going to need help from all of you.

We need good voices for our industry. We need good leaders and we need each of you to be involved. At NCBA, our leadership and staff is out there working on your behalf every day because you can’t be. But what we would ask of you is to provide your support, recruit new members and give us the strength we need to represent each of you.

If you’re not at the table, we might all be on the menu. Now, let’s get to work.

Editor’s Note: Alexander is president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

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