"We know dairy producers are facing tough times," said Heather Vaughan, Washington, D.C., spokesperson for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. "But making a dairy buyout part of the economic stimulus package is definitely the wrong way to go."

Speaking to MEATPOULTRY.com from Phoenix, where NCBA members have gathered this week for the organization’s annual convention, Vaughan said one proposal calls for the government to buy 6.5 billion pounds of milk, resulting in a cull of 320,000 cows. According to NCBA calculations, such a large-scale cull would depress beef prices 49% over 30 days and 24% over 60 days. Vaughan said that promises were made before a similar dairy buyout was instituted in 1986 that beef prices would hold firm, "but they still crashed" -- some estimates put beef industry losses that year at $1 billion as a result of the dairy program. As reported earlier this week at MEATPOULTRY.com, NCBA sent a letter to members of the Senate opposing a dairy buyout component to the stimulus package.

NCBA doesn’t think the government needs to intervene at all. "Beef producers aren’t looking for a buyout. Our members are almost all small businessmen, and they want to remain independent," she said. "We don’t want government intervention because when the government intervenes, they’re going to influence prices."

Vaughan told MEATPOULTRY.com that despite what she called "a tough economy," the mood was relatively optimistic at the Phoenix convention. "There’s a lot of optimism about trade. We could see millions of dollars of increases with more beef trade just to Japan." At the same time, NCBA welcomed the Obama Administration’s promise to put implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling on hold pending a review. "Not only has COOL created a lot of confusion, but consider that Mexico is our number-one beef trading partner and Canada is our number-two beef trading partner – and what are we doing to them with COOL? It’s going to hurt our very best trading partners."

While NCBA has had a reputation for political conservatism, Vaughan said the organization is non-partisan. "We met several times during the campaign with the Obama people as well as with the McCain people. They both assured us time and again that we’d have a seat at the table." She added that cattlemen were generally pleased with the choice of Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, to be Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama Administration. "We’re glad he’s from a state where agriculture is an important part of the economy. He’s not some kind of outlier."

At the same time, "We’re really looking forward to seeing who will be appointed to the assistant secretary, deputy secretary and administrator positions. So many of them are still open," she said, "and these are the positions that can really impact the industry directly."