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Impasse with Nebraska brand law work group leads to 4th meeting

By Spike Jordan
for The Fence Post

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — The stakeholders of Sen. Steve Halloran’s LR 378 working group hit an impasse Wednesday, setting up the need for a fourth and final meeting to reconcile their differences before new brand legislation can be drafted. The final meeting is likely to be set for North Platte, Neb., during the second week in December.

Halloran, who chairs the ag committee, said he would direct the committee’s research assistant Rick Leonard to generate a report based on the discussions during the course of the study, which stakeholders could take to their respective organizations for consideration before the final discussions start.

“The chances of having unanimity on this are remotely none,” Halloran told stakeholders halfway through Wednesday’s two and a half hour meeting. “Middle East peace is probably easier than this might be, but that being said; going into this my view was not to overhaul (LB 1200) so dramatically that it would stand little chance of passing.”



Mounting concerns centered on an Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska pitch to expand the boundaries of Nebraska’s brand inspection area to encompass the whole state. Their reasoning, ICON member Don Cain, DVM of Broken Bow explained, is because that providing proof of ownership for livestock is a state law — not just a law for that affects the western two-thirds of the state.

ICON’s proposal, which adopted some text of the LB 1200 draft legislation, changed the name of the brand act to the “Nebraska Livestock Title Law,” and changed references in the law from “brand inspection” to “livestock ownership verification.”



Cain said that while the concept of brand inspection may be a foreign idea to the mostly urban senators who make up the bulk of the legislature’s agriculture community, those senators would more easily understand the concept of a title as demonstrating property ownership.

But expanding the inspection area — which many residents of the inspection area see as solving many of the problems — would be a steep climb in a legislature dominated by seats in eastern districts.

CALL FOR UNITY

Jack Lawless, feedlot manager for Gottsch Cattle Company, who are members of the Nebraska Beef Producer’s Committee, gave an unexpected call for unity.

“We did not back (LB) 1200, because for our goals, we had a better bill (LB 1165), which said we didn’t need brand inspection,” Lawless said. “That was our opinion, and it’s just almost as crazy sounding as your opinion if you want brand inspection — you’re going nuclear the other way.”

“(LB) 1200 didn’t do enough for us. If we didn’t want anything, it still had the most,” he said. “We thought we had the better bill to take. We don’t have the same opinion, and that’s why we’re in the room.”

“At the hearing it was clear that the ag committee didn’t want a bunch a yahoos standing in front of them arguing,” he said. “They want unity.”

“If we can’t come out of this with something that we all at least stand partially behind, we’re going to have the same thing in Lincoln,” Lawless said. “That’s not what was asked of us. I thank you guys for allowing us to do this. It’s been informative and eye opening.”

But unity was lacking on another front: moving cattle from growyards to registered feedlots (RFLs) without an inspection, which is at the heart of the litigation between Adams Land and Cattle and The Brand Committee.

As mentioned previously, LB 1200 contained a couple of provisions to allow for growyards to be permitted in a similar way to RFLs. Under the proposed text of the bill, affiliated growyards who background cattle which are 100 percent owned by the RFL owner are allowed to skip having an inspection prior to moving those cattle into the registered lot.

Brand Committee Executive Director John Widdowson said that the integrity of the Nebraska brand committee needs to be protected.

“If we water down the policy and procedures in the statutes and the brand act, we’re going to lose the integrity of what we actually do,” Widdowson said. “We verify ownership when there’s a change of ownership or when they leave the brand inspection area.”

Widdowson said that the group needs to decide if that’s still the foundational goal of the brand law and the brand agency.

“At the end of the day, we have to be able to stand up in a court of law when there is a dispute, and protect every single one of us in this room,” he said. “If we water down these policies and statutes to make everyone feel good, we won’t have that ability to stand up in a court of law.”

Widdowson said that the brand committee understood the RFLs heartburn with the current fee schedule, which is why it proposed the change from inspections to records audits.

“We recognize that the growyards need to be brought in to the program, but we cannot weaken the integrity,” he said. “We can’t water down the requirements to go in to a growyard because we then reduce the integrity of the brand act.”

BACKGROUNDERS

The Beef Producers argued to do away with the 100 percent ownership requirement, seeing as many of its affiliate growyards also background cattle for other customers rather than exclusively for Adams and Gottsch.

Lawless said that the backgrounder is a professional who has a reputation to uphold. He said Gottsch researches the people who it does business with and the likelihood of someone else’s cattle being mistakenly shipped to their RFL is extremely low. In the event that it does happen, he said his company knows its cattle and will return any strays it identifies back to the source facility.

The Beef Producers have proposed filing reports with the brand committee about the cattle shipped from growyards to the RFL, similar to the shipping affidavits they file when moving cattle from the RFL to the packing house.

Widdowson expressed reticence for adopting that policy, however, making the analogy that once the cattle move to the RLF, or are “checked in to the hotel,” so to speak, that is the last time brand committee inspectors will have physical eyes on those animals.

As happens from time to time at feedlots, cattle crawl through bunks and comingle. In the event that a stray animal owned by someone else is shipped to the RFL, there’s a possibility that it would wind up on the killing floor at Tyson or another packing plant before the brand committee could recover it.

Even after an animal has entered the RFL, having a brand committee inspector or investigator go to the RFL and track down a stray would likely require the need to inspect pens of cattle to locate it. At $1 per head for those inspections, returning that cow could become a costly prospect, and the dispute of who should assume that cost — be it the backgrounder, the RLF owner, or the owner of the stray — would be an example of the integrity headache which Widdowson said the brand law seeks to avoid.

Widdowson said the same thought applied to the use of radio-frequency identification or RFID and e-inspection for the dairy sector.

Some dairies move heifer calves across state lines to background ranches to be grown until they are ready to enter the dairy. While there is no change of ownership in those instances, the current law still requires those slick calves to be inspected to verify and provide proof of ownership. These inspections cost $1 per head, plus a $20 surcharge.

Concerns from the dairies go beyond the expense of paying the fees, however. The issue of bio-security and the potential that a brand inspector could bring an outside disease into the dairy facility have been weighed at past meetings, which is why Widdowson said an e-inspection could be a more cost effective option for dairies which would allow those cattle to be moved and proof of ownership to still be logged and maintained by the brand committee. Since dairies already make use of EIDs to track individual data for those heifers from the period they are born to when they enter the lactation stream, it would be a little to no-cost solution to that problem which would still allow the brand committee to maintain the integrity provided by proving ownership.