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Senator Grassley meets with frustrated farmers in Monticello

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MONTICELLO, Iowa (KWWL) - About 100 farmers met in Monticello Tuesday to tell Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, how they're barely getting by.

"The consumer's getting stuck with exceptionally high prices and we're not making anything. And there's nothing we can do about it," Steve Eickert said, a third generation cattle farmer in Andover.

According to the Iowa Cattleman's Association and Senator Grassley, this is due to the meatpacking plants having too much control of the industry.

In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants decreased production to the point where grocery stores were limiting purchases. That made the selling price to consumers high but didn't necessarily raise the price producers were getting when they dropped their cows off.

According to the ICA, the packing plants that could stay open were making a lot of money, and small local farmers were getting a very low cut of that. The ICA says that margin has shrunk in the last year but still needs to be more equitable.

Meatpacking plants can avoid local farmers and find a better price by either owning and raising their own cattle, or using previously negotiated contracts that are less transparent.

"The really hard part of listening to a group like this is to find out how much money they're losing every day," Grassley said.

In late March, Grassley introduced Senate Bill 949 which would require at least 50% of a plant's weekly beef volume come from "the open market". The three conditions for the open market are: 1. there is a firm base price with a fixed dollar amount, 2. cattle are slaughtered no more than 14 days after the agreement is struck, and 3. there is a reasonable competitive bidding opportunity.

"We're seeing what we can do to get the independent producer a market," Grassley said.

Farmers at the event were happy someone was listening to them, but many had doubts the bill would make a huge difference.

Grassley's policy advisor told the crowd the penalty for disobeying the new bill would be a daily fine of $10,000. Since processing giants like JBS S.A. are worth billions of dollars, many in the crowd said that wasn't enough.

“Until you hold people physically accountable, I don’t think anyone’s gonna take you seriously," Eickert said.

Eickert said he hopes his suggestion ends up in the bill but more so, would like politicians to take farmers more seriously.

“I think there’s a huge disconnect in Washington D.C. for what farming does for this country," Eickert said.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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