Want to have an impact on the livestock industry? There's still time to raise your voice

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published three long-awaited rules in December that would level the playing field for poultry and livestock producers. Officials will accept comments until March 24.

If you care about economic opportunity in rural America and if you care about our poultry and livestock producers, now is the time to raise your voice and submit a comment. This is a chance not to be missed.

Proposed rules

We described the provisions of the three rules previously on our blog.

We need you to raise your voice today. Tell USDA why it is important to enact these protections for poultry and livestock producers. Tell them why supporting farmers and ranchers is essential to creating jobs and economic opportunity in rural America. Comment by March 24 to be heard.

Here’s what to do

Write your submission and submit it by the March 24 deadline. Below you will find sample text that you can submit for all three rules. You are welcome to use it in writing your submission. We’ll post our own submitted comments on our blog soon.  

Top three things to remember:

  1. Farmers are allowed to submit comments anonymously.  
  2. You can comment on any of the three rules. Deadline is MARCH 24. Comments submitted after this deadline will not be accepted.
  3. Comment on the three rules at the links below. There is a button for submitting comments near the top of each page.
    1. ‘Housefire Rule’ - Competitive Injury Interim Final Rule
    2. Unfair Practices and Undue Preferences - Proposed Rule
    3. Poultry Grower Ranking Systems - Proposed Rule

Here’s sample comment text

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on USDA’s three pending Farmer Fair Practices rules that would significantly help my farm business. These long-overdue but essential safeguards level the playing field for independent poultry and livestock farmers and ranchers.

I support all three rules: the interim final rule on “competitive injury,” the proposed rule on unfair and unjust treatment and the proposed rule on poultry ranking.

For too long, processing companies have used their economic leverage to disadvantage farmers and ranchers. Too many farmers and ranchers, squeezed by the packer and processor companies, have exited the livestock business or were forced out of farming altogether.

In addition, the health of our rural communities depends on economic opportunity in rural places. Leveling the playing field for poultry and livestock producers when they sell to packers and processors will be an enormous help for rural America. These rules take important steps to ensure farmers and ranchers are treated fairly by packers and processors and have some safeguards against unfair and retaliatory practices.

To raise poultry and livestock, many farmers and ranchers invest their life savings and borrow hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars to raise animals for the packing companies. These three rules provide some level of protection to ensure farmers and ranchers do not lose their operations from unfair, deceptive or retaliatory practices from packers or processors.

The interim final rule simply ensures farmers can challenge unfair treatment without bringing a federal antitrust case against packers or processors. With this rule, farmers will not have to prove a packer or processor’s actions that harmed them also hurt competition in the entire industry. For too long, this requirement to prove harm to competition has kept farmers in a bind. This rule finally levels the playing field for producers.

The proposed rule on unfair practices and undue preferences rules describes behaviors by packers and processors that any person would admit were unfair — such as manipulating the weight of delivered birds, retaliating against farmers for talking to elected officials, or refusing to deal with farmers fairly. These commonsense protections have been stalled at USDA for too long and need to be in place and enforced.

Finally, the proposed poultry ranking system rule would help poultry producers. The rule prohibits poultry companies from targeting individual growers and providing them with bad birds and feed in a way that reduces the payments they receive. However, the rule should be strengthened further. It should require that the company’s payment systems be more objective, and not be based on the quality of chicks or feed that the company provides.

I have an additional concern regarding these rules. The proposed rules state various actions on the part of packers and processors are unfair or unjust. They also state these actions will be allowed if there is a “legitimate business justification.” This leaves the door open for packer and processor companies to continue unfair actions against farmers and ranchers. This loophole is concerning. It could allow companies to treat farmers unjustly when weighing delivered flocks, or to blacklist farmers who talk to elected officials, as long as the company showed a “legitimate business justification.” This loophole needs to be stripped from both the proposed rules.

Thank you again for this opportunity to provide comments on these three important rules.