Efforts to expand livestock development in North Dakota received a setback this week, according to North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU), when the Trump administration withdrew rules that would have protected family farmers and ranchers from anti-competitive practices and unfair conditions in heavily concentrated ag markets.

“Farmers Union is working hard to find new markets for the crops we produce,” said NDFU President Mark Watne. “Growing our livestock sector to utilize our commodities makes sense, but the withdrawal of these rules is a setback.”

On Tuesday, the United States Department of Agriculture withdrew Farmer Fair Practices rules that were set to go into effect this week. If implemented, the rules would have leveled the playing field between contract farmers and companies, making it easier for poultry and livestock producers to bargain or take legal action over unfair treatment.

“The rules would have guaranteed equitable treatment and encouraged growth in the livestock industry,” said Watne. “This is a missed opportunity to make greater use of the commodities we grow.”

Four giant meatpacking companies currently control 85 percent of the beef market, 65 percent of the pork market, and more than half of the poultry market in the U.S.

With just a handful of companies controlling livestock markets, producers become price takers and have virtually no control over the prices they are paid or, in many cases, the way they raise their animals, said Watne.

“We’ve tried to implement these rules for years as part of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, to protect farmers and consumers from unfair and monopolistic practices in the meatpacking industry,” he said. “We were so close in making this happen. The good news is we’re not giving up even with this setback.”