But behind that surface, explained National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) CEO Colin Woodall, there’s a much healthier dialogue happening with this administration. While disagreements are in play, NCBA is seeing common ground and a receptive audience take shape with the executive branch. Woodall explained the dynamic to producers at the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association convention held in Fort Worth in late July.

Cooper david
Managing Editor / Progressive Cattle

“We’re finding a lot of opportunity and more conversations with the Biden White House than we did with the entire Obama administration,” Woodall explained. “It’s not quite the gloom and doom situation that people think.

“We don’t have the luxury of being in the one-sided business. We’re working with the president because he’s the president.”

Woodall said some of the dynamic is being watched closely as Biden continues to confirm and appoint new undersecretaries and department staff at key agencies, such as Forest Service, EPA and the Bureau of Land Management. Woodall pointed out more “two-way communication with EPA” has been a bright spot in the transition thus far.

That department will be one to watch as the administration pushes for climate change legislation and federal policy during Biden’s term.


“It is the topic in Washington,” Woodall said of climate policy. “We in this industry talk in terms of sustainability. We’ve been talking about it for years. It’s not about more regulative red tape for you to do business. It’s about stewardship of land, air, water and your families, and to take care of things.”

Woodall shared how even before he took office as Biden’s USDA nominee, after having served as Obama’s ag secretary, Tom Vilsack said, “If the president wanted to have any successful climate agenda, ag had to be at the table. Any involvement without cattle on fire suppression will not be successful.”

On the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) court rulings that were addressed under Donald Trump to ag producers’ advantage, Woodall said industry lobbyists knew it could be reversed or changed again under Biden.

“But here’s the one thing we didn’t have in the Obama administration. EPA administrator Michael Regan called me first and said, ‘Let’s talk about how we take care of farming and ranching.’

“Since then, we’ve had multiple chances to sit at the table with the administrator and his staff to talk about our needs, to make sure that whatever comes forward indeed can do what President Trump did, protect water quality but also ensure we have every opportunity to utilize our land the way we want to without the Corps of Engineers and EPA dictating what permits we need to comply with their perceptions of what a WOTUS rule should be. This is the beginning stages of that process.”

Infrastructure funding

As Congress pushed through this summer on infrastructure bill negotiations, Woodall said a key issue watched by NCBA was how the money will be raised. Biden’s push for the American Families Plan included discussion of removing the step up and basis tax policy. Stepped up basis tax provision removes capital gains tax liability for ag families during generational transfer. Republicans and NCBA have ardently fought against raising those taxes for middle class and farming and ranching families.

Woodall said the National Economic Council staff called NCBA in the midst of the debate to say they want to work with ranchers. Other key Democrats in chairman positions followed suit in defending the step up and basis.

The death tax discussion is also part of the debate. Woodall outlined how Sen. Bernie Sanders ( I-Vermont) still has death tax policy with exemptions for $3.5 million per person.

“It doesn’t take much for an operation to have assets of $3.5 million per person or $7 million per couple.”

With other bipartisan support from moderate Democrats, Woodall said NCBA is finding success shooting down those provisions to the benefit of ranchers.

Cattle price discovery

Woodall dove into the industry talk about cattle markets, pointing to NCBA’s policy change a year ago leading to more cash trade and price discovery. Some thresholds set by NCBA were met, and some packers are still not participating in surveys.

He rebutted the perception that NCBA is “run by the packers.”

One year ago, NCBA also made a request for the Trump administration to investigate the COVID-19 crisis to probe the packers and markets to see if any wrongdoing occurred.

“JBS contacted us and said, ‘We don’t want you doing that. You’re targeting us.’ And because of our request, six hours after it was submitted, the president announced an investigation. And there were some executives at JBS that had cellphones and laptops confiscated. They weren’t happy with us and wanted us to change our position. We did not change our position. And we decided to part ways with JBS.”

Woodall said the financial hit is heavy in that break, but worth it “because packers don’t run this association. We have to work with all segments of the chain to make sure we’re as healthy as we can be. But they’re not going to dictate our policies, our priorities or how we do business.”