Bison Ranchers Bring Business Concerns to Capitol Hill
Continued growth in the bison business will be impacted by short-term drought-relief measures, and by long-term federal policies governing farm credit, beginning farmer assistance, meat inspections, endangered species, and other issues.
That's the message that was brought to the nation's capital last week by a delegation of 18 National Bison Association members, who met with officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and with key congressional offices.
The ranchers told federal policymakers that growing consumer demand for bison meat is outstripping current supplies. They offered a series of recommendations on how current USDA resources could be better utilized to encourage new producers to enter the business.
In a Wednesday meeting with Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the bison delegation offered input regarding the implementation of several programs covered under the department's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. Topics during the meeting covered beginning farmer assistance, research, outreach, rural development, and farm-to-school lunch programs.
Dave Carter, NBA executive director, stressed that bison producers often face special challenges in accessing financing through USDA. "Bison are an unknown quantity for many loan officers, so they don't know how to valuate herds, or how to assess start-up costs," he said.
In meetings throughout the week, the grassroots bison lobbyists stressed that the ongoing drought threatens the ability of the buffalo business to expand production. Bison industry representatives from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico told federal officials that bison producers will be forced to liquidate herds unless they can access hay and other feedstocks at a reasonable price.
The ranchers urged members of Congress to continue funding for three USDA programs offering assistance for drought-stricken producers. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, programs for livestock indemnification, forage assistance, and livestock emergency assistance will expire at the end of September unless Congress authorizes continued funding.
The bison delegation also asked officials on Capitol Hill and at USDA to explore alternatives to help reduce the cost of transporting hay to the drought-impacted regions.
While in Washington, the buffalo producers also met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to review the latest development following the agency's February decision to deny a petition request to declare wild plains bison as an endangered species. Two environmental groups have filed notice of intent to sue the agency over the ruling, but no formal litigation has yet been filed.
John Flocchini, president of the National Bison Association, noted at the end of the two-day blitz that the bison ranchers had received positive responses throughout the week. "Without exception, the officials we met were extremely receptive, and willing to work with us to build bison production throughout the United States," he said.