SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As the cattle market continues to feel impacts from the 2021 drought and smaller herd sizes, Brett Kenzy is eager to get more voices involved with the nearly $500 billion beef industry. 

Kenzy, a cattle producer in Gregory County in south-central South Dakota, will be gathering with cattle producers from more than 20 states for the annual R-CALF USA Convention in Rapid City. Kenzy is currently serving as president for R-CALF USA and noted South Dakota cattle producers are currently serving as presidents of three different national cattle organizations – National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (Todd Wilkinson), U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (Justin Tupper) and R-CALF USA (Kenzy). 

“We all have a stake in the future, we just need to take part,” Kenzy said. “We try to have pretty compelling speakers come in and challenge us to think, not tell us what to think, but challenge thought because that’s what we all need to do.” 

He highlighted how it can be hard for ranchers, farmers and producers to become involved in organizations and engage in topics that can become controversial. 

“When you try hard, it’s frustrating to not see your neighbors get involved because it matters to all of us,” Kenzy said. “You don’t have to agree with me, but we all need to engage.” 

One of the speakers at the R-CALF USA convention will be Eva Vlaardingerbroek, who has been an activist and political commentator for Dutch farmers against environmental policies. Vlaardingerbroek’s speech will be at 7 p.m. Friday and is titled “The Global War on Farming: Control the Food, Control the People.” 

Kenzy said people interested in attending should visit the R-CALF USA website and he hopes to ask her about citizen engagement in the Netherlands and how farmers organized to fight against policy changes. 

What’s next for the beef industry? 

Like the more than 16,000 cattle producers in South Dakota, Kenzy is hoping high prices continue and wonders how quickly the cow herd in the United States will rebuild from its lowest point in 61 years. In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported cattle inventory at 89.3 million and there’s a chance it could be lower in 2024 as states continue to deal with impacts of drought.

“That’s the billion dollar question,” Kenzy said. “Cows are good for the environment, cows build towns, cows keep real America strong. As far as when prices will change, we’ve got geopolitics, we’ve got elections and a million different issues that play into that. We just want that to occur for real reasons and not manipulation.” 

This spring, Wilkinson, who works as a rancher and lawyer in De Smet, testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry in Washington D.C. about how cattle price changes occurred without government intervention. Representing NCBA, Wilkinson said cow-calf producers are now in a position of advantage because there’s less inventory and still high demand. 

Kenzy said there’s record prices for cattle producers, but many goods and services are also experiencing record prices. 

“We have to keep our pencil sharp, because inputs have just risen so dramatically,” Kenzy said. “We really haven’t fundamentally changed anything in terms of the business climate to get these markets. It’s just kind of a rally of attrition.”

He believes the issue of mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) will find a way to be approved by Congress. There’s bills on the topic in both the House and Senate, including one introduced by Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and one by Republican Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).  

“You can pick whichever bill you like, but mandatory country of origin labeling is front and center in Farm Bill talks,” Kenzy said. “That’s going to be important because there’s going to be a shortage of beef in this country and we want people to have the choice to choose between the American product and imported product. That’s what will help us rebuild our herds going forward.” 

Johnson’s proposed bill – the Beef Origin Labeling Accountability Act – looks to close open cases from Canada and Mexico with the World Trade Organization in order to move forward on reinstating MCOOL.

There’s another bill in the House, H.R.5081, from Reps. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) and Ro Khanna (D-CA). 

Kenzy said he believes there’s momentum to see something change for MCOOL. 

“I wouldn’t say that it’s the most singularly important issue, I think that we have a lot of important issues to deal with in the Farm Bill, but MCOOL is the one that starts the conversations,” Kenzy said. “It’s good to fight for something and to honor the American consumer to honor the American cattlemen.” 

In May, Wilkinson said the three main focuses for the NCBA in the 2023 Farm Bill are opposing modifications to Packers and Stockyards Act, protecting animal health and preparing for animal diseases.