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Neill said he discussed the way meatpackers appear to divvy up feedlots when they bid for cattle and other tactics that appear aimed at keeping prices low, such as buying cattle late at night, when markets are closed and feedlot owners have to guess what the going price of beef might be.
The process often works like this: Several competitors Nike Air Max Thea White Platinum visit a feedlot to place bids for the same cattle. One or two companies might not submit bids at all. Others offer bids that are several dollars per head less than the market price. The fourth meatpacker bids somewhat higher, ensuring that the rancher has little choice in deciding whose bid to accept.
Cattle production is divided into two stages: Ranchers first raise the cattle from birth until maturity, then hand them over to feedlot owners, who "finish" the animals by fattening them up before selling them to meatpackers.
Beef industry woes may mean poorer meat
"There's actually no market. You either give them to these guys, or you have no market," said Sears, who ran one of Nebraska's biggest feedlots until declaring bankruptcy in March.
Industry representatives insist there is no collusion and that the dwindling number of bids reflect broader changes in the way beef is bought and sold throughout the nation.
The AP's reporting found no evidence that meatpackers had engaged in the kind of flagrant backroom deals that are illegal under antitrust law.
Since 1996, plunging profits have caused about 11,000 ranches to shut down annually, according to one industry group. feedlots in just 13 years.
But Sears and many other ranchers say the market for domestic meat has withered to the point where they often receive only a single reasonable bid for their animals a trend that could eventually mean lesser quality meat on dinner tables across the United States.
Neill said two USDA attorneys flew this summer from Colorado to meet with him at a hotel in Clinton, Mo., to take his testimony in a deposition.
The competitive cash market for cattle has been gradually shrinking since the 1990s, but the pace of decline has quickened in the last few years. In 1999, the cash market accounted for nearly 70 percent of cattle sales to the top meatpackers.
"Food animal husbandry requires substantial expenditures," said Peter Carstensen, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and former Department of Justice antitrust attorney. "If you're not going to be compensated for that, your incentive as a farmer Nike Air Max Thea Navy Trainers
The American beef industry has long been dominated by just a handful of major companies. But as recently as a few years ago, producers could expect to sell their animals to a mix of meatpackers. Now the kind of competitive bidding for livestock that once defined the industry has all but ended in many places.
Those trends are reflected in the sales of several ranchers who opened their business records to the AP. Neill, for instance, said one company tended to dominate buying at each feedlot where he placed his cattle, even if that company offered low ball prices.
The complaints have also drawn the interest of federal regulators, who are investigating possible antitrust violations in the meatpacking industry. cattle production.
By 2007, it had fallen to just above 50 percent, according to Department of Agriculture figures. The low cash bids also mean meatpackers can reduce prices paid to ranchers who sell meat by contract, a separate sales system.
The struggle to get a competitive price, they say, is helping to push thousands of producers out of business and might put pressure on others to sell sicker, weaker cows with less tender, less flavorful meat and smaller rib eyes, for example.
But the companies could be engaged in a sort of gentlemen's understanding, simply taking cues from one another and staying out of certain competitive markets, Carstensen said.
Without a competitive market, experts say, cattle producers could lose the motivation to raise high quality meat. Some of them might cut corners on medicine, feed and veterinary care.
is to cut the cost and try to produce more pounds with less money," said Bill Bullard, chief executive officer at R CALF USA, a Montana based trade group that represents cattle producers.
to produce the quality just isn't there."
To restore competitiveness, the Obama administration is proposing the most sweeping antitrust rules for meatpackers since the Great Depression.
"You get into the cash market, and it's pretty disproportionate," Jones said.
Shelby Jones, a feedlot manager in Dighton, Kan., had an almost identical experience. Sales figures showed that National Beef Packing Co. LLC bought more than 75 percent of his cattle, despite at least three companies submitting bids. Some of those cattle were sold to National under contract, but even on the open cash market National won 58 percent of the bids.
"I doubt very much that I could convince a court that that's illegal," Carstensen said, even if the practice undermines the market.
AINSWORTH, Neb. In this Great Plains ranching town, cowboys still lasso steers as part of their daily routine and cattle producers like Bob Sears still take pride in the long tradition of raising American beef.
the industry's leading meatpackers because the companies are valued customers. An AP analysis of shipping logs and sales receipts confirmed their accounts.
Such examples have prompted the Agriculture and Justice departments to assign antitrust regulators to investigate the way meatpackers buy cattle.
"When the marketplace is not profitable, the only recourse a producer has Nike Air Max 2015 Wholesale
The cash market for domestic beef has been declining slowly for years. But The Associated Press interviewed cattle producers in the nation's big ranching states who reported having no choice but to sell the vast majority of their cattle to one buyer.
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