John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 12, 2009

John Howell Sr.

Butler’s background, training make him perfect for GIPSA

In his new job for less than a month, Batesville native Dudley Butler has already created waves in the nation’s livestock industry.

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The Benton cattle rancher and agricultural lawyer was appointed last month as the new administrator of the nation’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).

“GIPSA is an agency of critical importance to farmers and ranchers. However, many cattle producers have felt that the agency was captured by the packers, the very entities it was supposed to protect them against,” the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) stated in a news release.

(OCM’S web site further states that it is a “non-profit public policy research organization … (which) believes that America must work together, across all commodities, toward the common purpose of returning its food and agricultural sector to true supply and demand-based competition.)

“Butler’s experience and personal qualities make him well-suited to the task of putting this agency with its trouble past, back on the right path,” the OCM newsletter continues.

In a copyrighted interview with DTN/The Progressive Farmer columnist Chris Clayton, Butler seeks to calm the fears of giant agribusiness which have sounded warnings within their industries about Butler’s appointment. Others have applauded him as having the credentials and background to lead GIPSA to its rightful role of ensuring balance in the agricultural markets.

One columnist has labeled Butler as an “anti-corporate activist,” a label that the 1966 South Panola graduate denies. “I am not anti-corporate at all,” Butler told Clayton during the interview. “I am anti-unfairness, if that’s corporate or non-corporate.”

Butler’s appointment and the recent confirmation of Department of Justice anti-trust chief Christine Varney have sent shock waves into a meatpacking and stockyard industry nervous about having their stranglehold on the nation’s farmers.

In Mississippi, Butler has helped chicken farmers in their struggles with the large poultry companies. He helped organize OCM when Mississippi pork producers were struggling with packing houses over contracts.

 The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has repeatedly found GIPSA falling short of its mandate, prompting hearings before the Senate Agriculture Committee which criticized GIPSA for, among other things, its lack of performance.

Dudley was raised at the knee his granddaddy Will Ming and is always quoting something prefaced with, “My granddaddy used to say …”

Will Ming was a highly respected grocer  in Batesville whose reputation for fairness still lives among later generations that recall him fondly.

Butler has cited the importance of transparency and fairness in GIPSA. He has also called for balance between the companies and the farmers. He’s a lawyer who has argued for small farmers in Mississippi. He has a long career of arbitration and mediation.

And up there in Washington, in Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha and across mid-America, folks are hearing stories that begin with: “My granddaddy used to say …”