Holder wanted the panelists to predict what their industries will look like in 10 years. He also asked what is needed “to ensure a competitive, open agricultural economy in the future?”

Burkett: “I think the concentration of the marketplace is really having an impact on producers. There are only, maybe, four major chains controlling the majority of marketing of fresh produce and vegetables.

In the next 10 years, that really needs change, to open up and be more transparent. That way, small farmers or cooperatives can be major players in the market and receive a higher margin of profit.”

Producers create value in livestock by “going with the extra cost of grass-feeding,” said Carpenter. “They need to know there will be a mechanism to capture that added value as it moves through the marketing chain.”

For all parties to see success “we’ll have to see more and more communication up and down the marketing chain and more cooperation to target the needs of the consumer.”

In the retailing side, “you’ll see continued diversification of the marketplace,” said Lieberman. “We’re seeing that already.

“It’s amazing how the markets have changed. Thirty years ago, folks had to buy most groceries at a conventional supermarket. Today, it’s so much more diverse. … We’ve got the conventional supermarkets but also ‘supercenters’ and warehouse club stores and natural food stores and dollar stores. … This has resulted in very intense competition.” Competition is so cut-throat that margins can be a penny per dollar.

“So, in the future, I think we’ll see continued diversification that will mean more competition and lower costs for consumers,” continued Lieberman. “In the 1940s, an American family spent about 19 percent of their income on food eaten at home. Today, that percentage is 5.5. That has raised quality of life.”

Meyer said cattlemen “see an increase in demand for a lot of niche products. We don’t see percentages going any (particular) way – you’ll always have groups wanting this or that. (That will continue) in the next 10 years.”

Meyer also agreed that greater communication at all levels is a must. But most important: keeping cattlemen in business for the next decade. “To be there in 10 years will be a struggle for producers. It will be quite a feat. (Currently), we’re losing 1,000 producers per month. That’s alarming.

“We’re ready to work, ready to listen. But we’ve got to be there. We must have fairness in the markets.”

Meyer pointed out that in 2009 the consumer price index went up 1.4 percent on all food products. Meanwhile, “producers have a lot of fixed costs – all fuels went up 5.4 percent, gasoline went up 9.9 percent, diesel fuel went up 14 percent. That’s nine times (the percentage rise) in food.”

dbennett@farmpress.com