SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Last week, James Halverson was on a phone call with White House advisors discussing changes to agriculture and livestock markets. 

Halverson, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association Executive Director, was on the call to learn more about an Executive Order President Joe Biden signed on July 9 and how it would impact South Dakota producers. 

“We were really pleased to see this executive order,” Halverson told KELOLAND News. “Initially, what it aims to do we think is really good. Whether or not that actually comes to fruition, I guess we’ll see.” 

Biden’s EO, which can be found on the White House’s website, had three major points for the United States Department of Agriculture and one point for the Federal Trade Commission to consider: 

  1. New rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act. 
  2. New rules defining when meat can bear “Product of USA” labels. 
  3. Develop a plan to increase opportunities for farmers to access markets.
  4. Encourage the FTC to limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability for DIY repairs. 

The Packers and Stockyards Act was passed in 1921 and Halverson noted it became law when a dozen meatpackers controlled 50% of the meatpacking industry. Fast forward to 2021 when there’s four big meatpackers — JBS, Tyson, Cargill, and National Beef — controlling 80% of the meatpacking industry. 

Halverson said many cattle producers have said new laws aren’t needed, just better enforcement of the current Packers and Stockyards Act. 

“It’s a constant battle and has been for 100 years,” Halverson said. “Some years we’re winning, some years we’re losing. Our free-market economy is predicated on competition and we don’t think we have that right now in the fed cattle market.” 

James Halverson, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association Executive Director.

In his phone call with the White House, Halverson said it was stressed to him that Biden’s EO gives 72 different directives for federal agencies. Right now, meat on grocery store shelves may say “Product of the USA” but the meat could come from farms outside of the United States. 

Halverson said a meatpacking company can import meat, put a new package on it or have minimal processing and repackage it as “Product of the USA.” 

“That’s deliberately misleading consumers and a lot of them don’t know that,” Halverson said. “We’ve long been advocates for mandatory country of origin labeling and we hope this gets a step closer to that.” 

The “Product of the USA” label, Halverson said, will benefit consumers the most. 

The same day Biden’s EO was announced, the USDA said $500 million would be invested in expanding meat and poultry processing capacity, including $150 million for existing small and very small meat processing facilities. 

Halverson noted Gov. Kristi Noem also gave $5 million in grants to small meat lockers and helped get some state-inspected meat facilities permission to ship meats across some state lines. 

“There’s no one silver bullet that will fix the cattle market overnight, but all these things help,” Halverson said. 

As the 2021 drought continues to impact cattle producers across South Dakota and the region, Halverson said producers are happy to see some help from the government. He noted the Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing on cattle markets next week. In June, the same issue was discussed during a hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

“We’re going to see some more things come to light there and we feel like we got some good momentum right now,” said Halverson, who added he hopes to see similar hearings be held in the House of Representatives in the future. 

Just like many ranchers trying to get through this drought, he’s optimistic about what the future for cattle markets looks like. 

“We will see. That’s politics, the devil is in the details and the carrying out of these,” Halverson said. “Hopefully we’ll see some concrete change.”