GREAT FALLS — Montana's U.S. Senators - Steve Daines (R) and Jon Tester (D) - along with several fellow senators are trying to continue delaying restrictions on hauling livestock with the Modernizing Agricultural Transportation Act (PDF).
“Montana’s ag haulers should be able to transport their products efficiently and safely. Providing this needed certainty and flexibility to our ag and livestock haulers will help to remove unnecessary burdens that negatively impact our ranchers while also keeping our roads safe,” Daines said in a news release.
Raising cattle is not an easy business. For Montana ranchers, one challenge is transportation. “My neighbors, every Fall they load up cattle on a semi that, in many cases, (goes) a thousand miles to feed lots,” explained Walter Schweitzer, president of the Montana Farmers Union.
Schweitzer said ag producers need the delay that Daines and others are pushing for regarding Hours of Service and Electronic Logging Device restrictions. “We need these exemptions so we can get our cattle to market,” Schweitzer said.
Ironically, however, the delay would allow the current meat packing system to continue and therein lies what Schweitzer calls the bigger issue. “There’s no way we can risk the impact to our bottom line at the moment. It would cost us if we did not have these continued exemptions for livestock haulers,” said Schweitzer. "What we really should have is local markets."
He said because Congress is not enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and Packers and Stockyard Acts, four multi-national corporations are able to control the processing business and prevent local markets from being created.
“They’ll break you. They will undercut you in your markets,” said Schweitzer. “We have people in Washington D.C. visiting with the leaders there. We have people down in Helena working and lobbying for legislation there.”
Schweitzer said the fight isn’t easy: “When you’re going up against these corporate monopolies that can parachute in high-paid lobbyists to fight each and every individual issue, it’s a losing battle."
Daines says work is underway to address the issue. “I have written letters to the Department of Justice and to the USDA and thankfully they’ve started, actually, a criminal investigation looking at the monopoly issues that we believe exist,” Daines said.
As for continuing to delay the hauling restrictions? “The good news is, when you have good, strong, early bipartisan support you have much better odds of getting something passed,” Daines said.
The current delay is set to expire in October 2021.