U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., has been among the members of Congress trying to make headway with a bill that would provide pricing leverage to cattle producers by creating a library of cattle contracts within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last week, the bill — the bipartisan Cattle Contract Library Act of 2021 (H.R. 5609) — passed unanimously out of the House Agriculture Committee, becoming the first cattle market transparency bill to get out of the Agriculture Committee since the July 2020 price investigation report from the USDA.

“Producers want action — they want more transparency in the cattle market — this bill is a step in the right direction,” said Johnson in a statement. “The Cattle Contract Library Act ushers in greater transparency and competition to an industry that desperately needs it. I’m grateful to the farmers and ranchers for their critical input to come to a consensus and I’m glad the committee answered this request. I’m going to fight like hell to get this bill passed out of the House.”

To this point, cattlemen are unaware of contract terms being offered by packers, leading to a decline in leverage for smaller producers during price negotiations. The bill requires the USDA to publicly report the total number of cattle that beef packers have committed to them six months and 12 months into the future.

A number of national and South Dakota-focused agricultural groups have supported the measure, including the American Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, the Livestock Marketing Association, the U.S. and South Dakota Cattlemen’s Associations and the South Dakota Farmers Union.

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“The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association would like to thank Rep. Dusty Johnson and his team for continuing to push forward with meaningful changes to the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) program that will increase transparency in the cattle marketplace,” said U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Vice President Justin Tupper, of St. Onge, South Dakota. “A cattle contract library is sorely needed, and this bill is one step closer to bringing that concept to fruition.”

“In meetings with ranchers and feeders across the state, there is agreement that we need cattle market transparency, including reporting details of all cattle marketing arrangements,” said South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal in a statement. “The Cattle Contract Library is common sense and I hope we can get it quickly moved out of committee and passed in the House.”

One notable exception is the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America, or R-CALF USA. It said it “determined (the bill) does not address the competition-disrupting leverage the highly concentrated beef packers now hold over the cattle market and that new methods of cattle procurement in use today by the largest beef packers may fall outside the scope of the bill.”

“The problem with our broken market is not that we don’t know the details of the contracts that confer market leverage to the packers, the problem is there are too many contracts and because of that, our price discovery market is being destroyed,” said Iowa cattle feeder and the group’s director Eric Nelson in a press release.

R-CALF USA said it supports the 50/14 bill, which is introduced in the U.S. Senate, which would increase volume in the price-discovery market and decrease the volume of contracted cattle. That bill would require 50% of a meat packer’s weekly volume to be purchased on the open or spot market, along with a 14-day window for delivery of the cattle, hence the 50/14 name. That bill is being led by U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Jon Tester, D-Mont.