The big four are sucking all the oxygen out of the room

Updated: Sep 8, 2021


When I speak of the big four I’m talking about the four biggest meat packing houses that harvest 85% of the beef we eat in our country. There’s Cargill, the largest privately held corporation in the U.S.A., then there’s J.B.S. headquartered in Brazil, the largest beef packer in the world, then we have National Beef, the smallest, and finally to finish out this quartet Tyson Foods, the largest of the four in terms of cattle processed each day. Together they control over 85% of the nation's total beef supply.

With this kind of leverage they are able to strong arm you the consumer and me the producer at the same time.

Here’s how it works: this quartet sees a situation like the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 where one of the quartet’s packing house workers came down with Covid-19 they had to close the plant and the previous summer one of the four had their plant burn almost to the ground. The cattle market reacted by reducing what I could sell my cattle for by several hundred dollars per head because there was an oversupply of cattle ready to harvest with the two plants being closed. Then they went to the consumer and said there’s going to be a shortage of meat because of the plant closings and the price of meat will be going up. Now with all these market gyrations according to the “Big Four” it was necessary to raise the price of meat to the public to reflect the new reality. So what does this new reality amount to in terms of dollars and cents to the “Big Four”? Well it meant that a steer ready to be harvested and quartered ready to be made into hamburger and steaks will enrich these companies since the turmoil began between $1,000 and $2,000 per head and they will have owned one of these cattle for maybe a week. Now what about me the producer? I’m going to own what my segment of the cattle industry calls “stocker steers.” When I buy them in November they will weigh about 600 pounds each and I will own them until the following June when I hope they will have gained 250 to 300 pounds per head and if I made $200 dollars per head I would be happy. Although, because of the drought and the cattle market decline, I will be lucky to break even this year. But for “the long haul” by making $200 per head it will take me five years at the minimum for me to earn what the Big Four earns in one week for each head harvested and sold.

So why do I hang in there? Well there is nothing else I’d rather do and I’ve got a ranch that needs grazing animals on its land in order to function the way Mother Nature intended.

Our federal government has on their books the Sherman Antitrust Act and other tools that are designed to level the playing field between packers and producers but as far as I know it has not been called upon to level the field. Our legislative body is too busy trying to get reelected to help the underdog. In the battle between David and Goliath, they choose Goliath.

I’m going to put forth an idea anyway for all you out there in Blogland to ponder. The name of this new enterprise will be Integrity Food and will even have its own acronym BLAC to encourage a rebuilding of the rich black soils that greeted the folks that first settled here. But after 400 years of soil mining, the home that I’ve inherited is looking a little threadbare and in need of some repairs. More correctly major repairs. So our new President has put forth a program of renewal that has its own acronym STEM to be taught in our schools of learning at all levels meaning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math which will be very necessary for the rebuilding of all of our “man made superstructures” that are necessary to keep us all fed, clothed and with all of our creature comforts intact and at our beckon call. Well well, just wait a minute, what about the soil under our feet that makes all of this “easy living” possible? We’ve got to have BLAC before we can have STEM for with no photosynthesis their will be no life on our planet Earth.

So what does BLAC stand for? B is for Biostimiulents when we recognize the value of all the critters just under our feet that are indispensable to the health and growth of all the green growing things.

L is for local food logistics there’s a lot of technology out today that can bring the farmer closer to the consumer as a new retail interface where it will be easier and easier for city folks to deal directly with farmers and ranchers. Thus releasing a little of the choke hold that the big four have on the meat industry and that the large produce packing houses have over the vegetable growers. Hey big four are you shivering in your boots?

A is for authentic farming and ranching. In any economic system there can be cheaters who try to take advantage of the system. But today there’s all sorts of new technology from drones to hand held nutrient meters to verify content. Today using infrared technology you can tell the over grazed hot soils from the cooler grass covered soil. So we can have safe food direct from the producer to the consumer without government intervention.

C is for Carbon sequestration and the best way to pull CO2 from the air, to cool us all down a little, is by using the process science calls Photosynthesis that will put CO2 back into the ground where it came from. And organic matter will do an awful lot to help put our tattered planet back on track, to a planet with a future for all of us.

I carry in my pocket at all times a cell phone that if I only knew how to use it. It has all the information to roll back the clocks of time, to a time when farmers and ranchers knew some city folk on a first name basis and vice versa. So we could tell our city friends that they need to realize that humanely raised livestock and naturally raised fruits and vegetables free of pesticides and herbicides won’t look as perfect to one’s eyes as industrial food and will cost more than our present political policy of cheap food. Which leaves agriculture with not enough capital to fix our depleted soils and to build them back to their once Carbon rich, black soil that greeted the European invasion 400 years ago. This renewal is more important than all the “stuff” that is going to be made by human hands. To close: which came first? Not the chicken or the egg but the soil for without it you don’t get your “stuff.”

See Ya

Jack


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