EAST PEORIA, Ill. — The Washington, D.C. office of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is designed to be the embassy of the cattle industry.
“We host a tremendous amount of fundraisers,” said Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs for the NCBA. “We have a roof deck that can accommodate 400 people.”
That deck features a large Weber grill and a pellet grill.
“We can smoke brisket or cook burgers and steak and we do on a regular basis,” said Lane during a presentation at the Illinois Beef Association Summer Conference.
“It’s a good tool for us and in the last month we’ve had six members of Congress, including the ranking member of the ag committee, on our roof deck,” Lane said.
“We have a team of staff in our office to tackle every issue you can imagine across the spectrum of cattle production,” he said. “Because issues important to a producer on 200,000 acres in Nevada are very different for a producer operating on 500 acres in Illinois.”
The three teams specialize in cattle health, taxes and international trade and natural resources.
“Our political action committee is one of the most impactful in American agriculture and we’re really proud of our record,” Lane said. “For the last congressional cycle, we wrote checks to 120 candidates both Republicans and Democrats and we had a 95% success rate for candidates that were elected to offices.”
The PAC is a powerful tool for the nation’s cattlemen, Lane said, to build relationships and to make sure congressmen and senators know where the cattle industry stands on issues.
“The events of Jan. 6 drove a lot of political action committees to stop writing checks, but we didn’t make that decision,” Lane said. “We decided to support members of Congress who support the U.S. cattle industry.”
NCBA does not have a policy on what happened on Jan. 6, Lane said.
“We have policy given to us by you and we make decisions based on who can be an effective member of Congress in defense of this industry,” Lane said.
“The good news is President Biden did not receive a mandate to do anything other than try to heal the country and move the country back together,” he said. “However, they have a real challenge because they are aware they do not have a united party that can charge ahead with an aggressive agenda.”
That means, Lane said, there is an opportunity for NCBA to work with moderate Democrats and to help the Biden administration understand the concerns in rural America.
“I get a call from the White House about once a week,” Lane said. “That doesn’t mean we agree with them on every issue, but they’re interested in what we have to say and we’re making our voices heard.”
President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is much different than the previous administration, Lane said.
“These are people who know how government works, they know how to move the levers of power and they understand the regulatory process,” he said. “We had to work hard with the Trump team to get regulations moved.”
Therefore, Lane said, now things will move in a much more efficient manner through the system.
“So, if you don’t get it right, it can be really tough because they’re much better at getting what they want done,” he said.
There are dealmakers at the helm of the some of the House and Senate committees, Lane said.
“That’s really important in an environment that’s as polarized as Washington is now,” he said. “We’re aggressively engaging moderates on the Democratic side of the aisle.”
There are five to 10 moderate Democrats, Lane said, that are open to flipping on some of the issues.
“That’s where the PAC comes into play because we are a bipartisan organization,” he said. “We’re going to build relationships where it makes sense so we have friends on both sides of the aisle.”
NCBA is focused on advocating for common sense with climate policy.
“This is one of the biggest issues in Washington now because every committee in Washington is talking about climate,” Lane said.
“For carbon markets we’ve managed to move the cattle industry out of the target line and into the solution bucket and that’s where we want to stay in this conversation,” he said. “We’re one of the only industries that can illustrate we’re leaving more carbon in the ground than we’re taking out.”
One of the challenges for the cattle industry has been the use of global emission numbers versus U.S. amounts.
“Globally, 14.5% of the carbon emissions come from cattle, but the U.S. number is 1.9%,” Lane said.
“We’re not Brazil, Australia or New Zealand, so the way we raise cattle in this country is exponentially more efficient,” he said. “Not only do we produce the best beef in the world, but the manner in which we produce it is also the best in the world.”
As discussions continue about carbon markets or systems, it is important cattlemen receive credit for beneficial practices they have already implemented.
“Baseline really matters and you have to bolster people who already are doing voluntary conservation practices,” Lane said.
“Nobody is going to get rich on carbon credits, but hopefully it will be enough to balance and compensate for changes,” he said. “That’s why voluntary is so important and it’s got to pencil because if it doesn’t pencil, it’s not worth producers doing it.”