Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate (R) thanked President Donald J. Trump (R) for asking the Department of Justice to investigate the Big Four meatpackers for possible market manipulation of the price that farmers and ranchers get for their beef cattle.
“I want to thank President Trump for asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to expand its investigation into allegations that large U.S. meat packing companies manipulated beef prices farmers received for their cattle at market. USDA has been investigating meatpacker pricing activity since last fall, after live cattle prices plummeted following the Holcomb, Kansas, meat plant fire,” Pate said. “On April 6th, I sent a letter to U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones requesting they join fellow U.S. senators calling on DOJ to investigate meat packing companies’ influence on the cattle market.”
U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) was part of a bipartisan group of 19 Senators who sent a letter to the DOJ urging the AG William Barr and the Department of Justice to investigate possible unfair manipulation of the live cattle markets to fix prices in favor of the packers and against farmers and ranchers.
“Cattlemen across America seriously question the ability for their children to take over what are frequently multi-generational, family-owned operations that have served as the engines for their communities and our country’s food supply,” Jones and the Senators wrote. “The precarious market situation for feeders and producers could lead to a widespread collapse of this entire industry, making it susceptible to the forces of vertical integration, which may beset the industry far more quickly than once anticipated. It is critical for the DOJ to act expediently to investigate these concerning circumstances and evaluate potential competitive harms.”
“Four meat packing companies in the U.S. control more than 80 percent of the beef supply and there continues to be a tremendous gap between the cash cattle price farmers receive and the price consumers pay at the store,” Commissioner Pate wrote. “Since the coronavirus outbreak, boxed beef prices have more than doubled, while live cattle prices have dropped about 20 percent.”
Pate is optimistic that cattle farmers will benefit from the DOJ investigation.
“I am encouraged that the investigation seems to be moving forward,” Pate said. “It’s important that cattle farmers who work hard to produce the beef we all enjoy receive a fair price for their cattle.”
The Senators were joined in urging for a DOJ investigation by 11 State Attorney Generals.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) said, “As a third-generation cattleman myself, I understand the stress many in the cattle business have faced for years. Cattlemen and cattlewomen across the United States are simply asking for transparency and accountability from our meatpackers in the beef business. I applaud Attorney General Eric Schmitt for showing leadership on this issue. It is important our farmers and ranchers understand that Missouri supports them.”
The Big Four meatpackers are: Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, JBS Swift, and National Beef.
R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America), a ranchers’ group, filed suit against the Big Four last year alleging illegal market manipulation and monopolistic behavior. R-CALF is urging Congress to bust up the large food processing companies.
Mike Callicrate is one of the co-founders of R-CALF USA and is a farmer-rancher and entrepreneur who owns a boxed beef company in Colorado Springs.
“National security is impossible without food security,” Callicrate told the Alabama Political Reporter. “The security of the State is impossible without food security. Globalization and multinational corporate control of our food systems has left us unable to feed ourselves.”
R-CALF USA believes that the Southeast region should have its own locally owned packing industry rather than being dependent on giant meatpackers located hundreds or even thousands of miles away owned by multi-national corporations.
“Job one should be for Alabama to build local/regional food infrastructure that connects Alabama farmers directly to Alabama consumers,” Callicrate told APR. “This will eventually eliminate the industrial model that is exploiting Alabama citizens and mining the State’s valuable resources. We must make future efforts bomb-proof . . . with a new commitment to antitrust law enforcement, and through support of our food dollars.”
Bill Bullard is the CEO of R-CALF USA.
“Covid19 has magnified a problem that has plagued the industry for years,” Bullard told APR. “We can not go back to where we came from. Restructuring is a necessity! “
COVID-19 exposed the danger of reliance on increasing larger and larger meatpacking plants that slaughter thousands of cattle each day with thousands of workers, many of them immigrants, working literally shoulder to shoulder disassembling animals often at breakneck speeds.
Sunday afternoon, the Alabama Political Reporter interviewed Callahan Parrish, a 4th generation Cattle Farmer. Callahan also owns the Cullman Stockyard and is emerging as an Industry Advocate.
“The pandemic has unmasked many fundamental problems associated with the current beef production model. Industry infrastructure, competitive market access for our producers and food security issues top this list,” stated Parrish.
“The skeletonization of the downstream segments of our industry is the result of the packers’ efforts to vertically integrate the cattle industry as they have already accomplished in the hog and poultry industries,” Bullard said. “In a very short time, we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of cattle producers, tens of thousands of farmer-feeders (smaller feedlots), and hundreds of packers, not to mention the loss of local livestock auction yards.”
70 percent of the cattle processed by the big meatpackers is contracted in advance. Prices are determined in the cash or spot market. By hedging against the cash market in livestock auctions the packers are more easily able to manipulate that cash market R-CALF USA contends.
“Without robust competition, the hollowing out of our rural communities will continue,” Bullard said. “It is time we reversed the negative trajectory of our industry by rebuilding our industry’s competitive marketing channels. It is time for Alabama to take a lead in infrastructure overall.”
There are impediments to siting a new regional meatpacker in Alabama. Since John Morrell closed its packing plant in Montgomery in 1992 thousands of Alabama farms and ranches have gone out of business and the state has far fewer cattle than it did a generation ago. Most of the remaining farms and ranches in the state produce 450 to 650 pound feeder calves, not the 1100 to 1500 finished or “fat” cattle that the industry butchers. Order buyers purchase southern calves and ship them out west to Texas, Missouri, or the plains states for growing out and finishing.
That would need to change to support a meatpacker here. While an increasing segment prefers grass finished cattle, most American cattle since the 1950s are finished in feedlots on grain. In 1915 Alabama had 4.5 million crop acres in cotton alone. Today all the crops acres combined in the state are less than 1.5 million acres. Some industry experts say that it is easier to export Alabama calves to the grain than import western gran to Alabama cattle; however Alabama’s poultry farmers grow over a billion chickens a year. Most of the 150 million bushels of corn and 63 million bushels of soybean meal that the chickens eat is imported from out of state. There is also enormous potential for grass finishing in Alabama given the moderate winters and plenty of rainfall.
“In the midst of hardship, Alabama’s Cattle Producers and stakeholders are talking solutions . . . and that is real progress,“ Parrish stated.
(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents own and operate an Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)
Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent
The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.
“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”
Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found.
Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama.
“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”
All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.
Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:
- Clay County – 3.4 percent
- Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
- Blount County – 3.7 percent
Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:
- Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
- Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
- Greene County – 10.9 percent
Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:
- Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
- Homewood – 3.2 percent
- Madison – 3.3 percent
Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:
- Prichard – 15.4 percent
- Selma – 12.9 percent
- Bessemer – 10.7 percent
New unemployment claims drop slightly
There were 8,848 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, slightly fewer than the 8,902 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Sept. 6 and Sept. 12, 4,485, or 51 percent, were related to COVID-19. That’s the same percentage as the previous week.
Inaugural Alabama Works innovator awards presented
The inaugural AlabamaWorks! Innovator Awards were presented by Gov. Kay Ivey and Deputy Director of Commerce and AIDT Director Ed Castile Thursday during the AlabamaWorks! Virtual Conference.
The awards were developed to highlight people and programs across the state that take an innovative approach to solving workforce challenges and help advance Ivey’s Success Plus attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025.
At the time of the inception of the awards, Alabama was unaware of the impact COVID-19 would have on the workforce and although the attainment goal has not changed, our economic and workforce recovery post-COVID-19 will hinge on innovators like those recognized.
“The workforce challenges that we face today are not the same ones that we faced six months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely reshaped the workforce landscape,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “The State of Alabama is relying on those who are leading the charge by implementing innovative solutions in their cities, counties and regions to further economic and workforce development.”
The recipients are visionaries, outside-of-the-box thinkers and problem solvers. The programs test boundaries, explore new opportunities and reach deeper to bring about change. “It is important to recognize these leaders of innovation and to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the citizens, communities and industries of Alabama,” said Ed Castile, deputy director of commerce and AIDT director. “Their innovative approach to workforce development will be key to opening doors, breaking barriers and propelling Alabamians forward.”
The recipients of the first-ever AlabamaWorks Innovator Awards are as follows:
Region 1 – North AlabamaWorks – Beth Brumley, Colbert County Schools
Beth Brumley built the Health Science Program for Colbert County Schools from the ground up by using her experience in the healthcare field to provide critical, real-world skills to her students. She developed key relationships within the healthcare community to provide her students enhanced learning opportunities and exposure, which resulted in increased demand for program graduates. Beth was also named the 2020 National New Teacher of the Year through the Association for Career and Technical Education. By bridging the gap between education and employer, Beth has created a formula for success that positively impacts the workforce.
Region 2 – East AlabamaWorks – The Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement (SAFE)
SAFE has been a model for supportive services to empower individuals and families while fostering positive and healthy development of the community for nearly 25 years. In their program, SAFE combines occupational and employability skills to help job seekers be ready to enter the workforce regardless of barriers they may have faced in the past. Their dedication to providing practical solutions to modern problems is a testament to their heart for service and passion for helping their community and region.
Region 3 – West AlabamaWorks – Dr. Mike Daria, Superintendent Tuscaloosa City Schools
Dr. Daria has played a crucial role in the success of West Alabama’s workforce development by fostering important relationships between industry and education. His leadership has focused on increased Career Technical Education (CTE) enrollment, supporting local Worlds of Work events and the Educator Workforce Academy. Dr. Daria’s emphasis on the importance of identifying career pathways for the students in his district and then providing viable opportunities for students to take those paths, make him invaluable to West Alabama.
Region 4 – Central Six AlabamaWorks – Ed Farm
Ed Farm is the signature program of TechAlabama that focuses on encouraging children and adults to discover and pursue STEM careers. Ed Farm has a vision for a world full of invention, led by citizens who have been equipped with the necessary tools to fill or create the careers of the future. Through equipping educators and communities with innovative tools, strategies and programs they are able to support active learning for all students. With three signature tracks, Ed Farm is poised to help increase educational equity and improve learning outcomes through technology all while preparing the future tech workforce.
Region 5 – Central AlabamaWorks – Tiger Mochas, Auburn City Schools
Tiger Mochas is a collaborative effort between special education students, FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) members and peer volunteers at Auburn High School. This student-led organization is serving up a lot more than hot cups of coffee to their peers because through their work, students are provided meaningful, hands-on work experience that teaches important functional, social and daily living skills. Graduates of the program leave with not only work and employability skills, but in-demand soft skills that will help them succeed in life and work.
Region 6 – Southeast AlabamaWorks – WeeCat Industries
WeeCat Industries uses a simulated workplace model to meet the growing demand for a skilled workforce. WeeCat saw an opportunity to begin teaching work ethics and employability skills as early as preschool, and rose to the challenge. Their students clock into work, run an assembly line, fill orders, check invoices, meet production quota, interview for new positions and implement quality control all while earning a “paycheck” to be spent at the WeeCat Store before they can even spell the word “school”. WeeCat Industries places invaluable skills at a crucial age in development which will shape the future of the workforce.
Region 7 – SAWDC AlabamaWorks – Ed Bushaw
Ed Bushaw with the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce researched and developed initiatives to address the region’s workforce supply to meet the needs of the growing hospitality and tourism industry in his region. His collaborative efforts with business and industry officials resulted in the development of the first Hospitality and Tourism registered apprenticeship program in Alabama. Apprentices receive classroom instruction as well as valuable real-world experience within the hospitality and tourism industry and finish the program with a credential that can be used to advance their career. Ed’s ability to adapt to the needs of industry and implement programs that address those needs are vital to the continued success of southwest Alabama.
Report: Transitioning to electric vehicles could save Alabama millions in health costs
Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.
Alabama could save $431 million in public health costs per year by 2050, if the state shifted to an electric transportation sector between now and then, according to a new study by the American Lung Association.
Such a transition would reduce other health-related issues, said the organization, which used data on pollution from vehicles and from oil refineries to calculate its findings.
Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.
The transportation sector is one of the main contributors to air pollution and climate change, said William Barrett, the association’s director of advocacy for clean air and the study’s author.
“We have the technology to transition to cleaner cars, trucks and buses, and by taking that step we can prepare Alabama for the future while also seeing the health and economic benefits forecasted in ‘The Road to Clean Air,’” Barrett said. “Especially as our state faces the impacts of climate change, such as extreme storms, this is a powerful and practical opportunity to take action to improve our economy, our health and our future.”
Trading combustion-powered vehicles for electric ones could result in $11.3 billion in avoided health costs across southern states by mid-century, the report estimated, and prevent roughly 1,000 premature deaths.
Nationally, Americans stand to save $72 billion in health costs and $113 billion in avoided climate change impacts, the ALA said.
The path to that future depends on leaders factoring public health effects into decisions about transportation, Barrett said.
That involves steps like pursuing electric vehicle fleets when purchasing decisions are being made and supporting the creation of enough charging stations along highways, roads and at truck stops.
Investing in that infrastructure can drive wider economic benefits, Barrett said. He cited California’s increased manufacturing of electric vehicles.
Tesla is the most well-known producer that has located there, but Barrett said that makers of trucks and buses have also chosen to locate their facilities in the state.