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Farm News & Views - September 14, 2021

The recent high retail price of beef has garnered some attention in Washington D.C., with the White House declaring a tougher stance toward meatpacking companies. During a press conference last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said consolidation in beef, pork and poultry processing is leading to higher prices at the store. Vilsack pointed out that major meat processors are raising prices, while at the same time, they are generating record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that "Our job is to make sure the farmer gets a fair price, and that when I go to the grocery store and I’m in the check-out line, I’m paying a fair price and I’m not paying more than I should,” The U.S. Consumer Price Index recorded that beef and veal prices in July were up 6.5% from a year earlier, while poultry prices were up over 5%, and pork prices were almost 8% higher. Last year's increase in poultry prices were the most since 2004 and beef, veal and pork prices were the highest since 2014. Four companies slaughter about 85% of all of grain-fattened cattle in the country. A statement from the Meat Institute, a lobbying agency for meat packers, said, "Issuing inflammatory statements that ignore the fundamentals of how supply and demand affects markets accomplishes nothing,”

When the Conservation Reserve Program sign up closed recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had accepted offers for more than 2.5 million acres of land from agricultural producers for enrollment in the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program, which is double last year’s enrollment. There are now over 5.3 million acres enrolled in the grassland CRP. Land owners in Colorado and New Mexico were among the top submitters to the program.

As farmers and ranchers in the Four Corners Region went into the growing season this year, they faced dry soils and uncertain irrigation water supplies. For some, their ditches and pipelines remained empty, while others have had limited water through much of the season. The Montezuma Valley Water Company provides irrigation water to about 39,000 acres in the Montezuma Valley, and although share holders expected the irrigation season to to end in mid July, Mother Nature came to rescue. MVIC General Manager Brandon Johnson said that the monsoon rain storms that started in July renewed water flows into McPhee Reservoir, allowing the company to extend water allocations until September 15th . Dry land farmers have also benefited from the monsoon rains, which have helped dry beans, canola and safflower crops to grow better than was expected when they were planted in May.

The lesson that drought has imparted on us this summer is that residents, farmers, ranchers and water managers need to hope for the best but plan for the worst. During a recent webinar, “Plummeting Powell”, hosted by the Colorado River Conservation District, district general manager Andrew Mueller pointed out that the decline in stream flows over the past 20 years are comparable to what occurred from the 1930s through the 1950s, and that “Around 90 percent of the water is in the upper basin, while 90 percent of the people are in the lower basin."

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”