Them big companies

THE CONTRARIAN

A page from Willy Brant’s diary — Bumped into an old acquaintance in Timmies the other day, a real farmer with lots of livestock and everything.  After agreeing on the weather being a problem (weather is always a problem) and to keep a conversation going, I remarked “Well at least with the good price for beef there is some money out there.”

“What planet do you live on”, he exclaimed, “Beef has dropped like a rock, I didn’t get much over half as much for my feeder steers this year as two years ago.” “Really”, from me “I was just checking out the meat at the supermarket, looking for a roast for when my daughter might visit next month, one that didn’t look very big was $50!”

“Yeah”, he answered “Them big companies just keep ripping us off. When the price of live cattle doubled a few years ago, the retail price more than doubled.  But most of the retail price is processing and markups by the big companies, so if all they were doing was passing on the increase in cattle price, the retail price should only have gone up maybe 30%.  But they doubled the retail price, and blamed it on the farmers!”  He was getting a bit red in the face, and speaking a bit loudly and emphatically. Come to think of it, I think this is the guy who is always spouting off about how ‘them big companies’ are ruining the world.  I suppose I have to confess I am about the same, but I just blame Ontario, whatever party is in power.  So I agreed, in a quiet voice, that “yep, all the money goes to the big city, and nothing left for us out across the country”.

“What’s really infuriating”, he went on with a bit less volume, “is that while the farm price of beef has been falling, the retail price stays up. So they jacked it up unfairly blaming the increase on the price of cows, then they don’t drop it down when the price of cows goes down. Them Big Companies!” he finished, in his most scornful voice.

Joe was out messing with the fence around his barnyard when I went by on my way home, so I stopped in, and dumped this conversation on him. “Is it true, beef is dropping like that?  I had no idea, course I don’t have any cows.”   “Yep”, from him, “it just keeps going down, month after month.  We still do okay, but the guys who borrowed to expand their herd or to replace their worn out equipment are getting worried”.

“So now”, from me, “if we can’t stop imports because of free trade and all, and Trump’s wall stops our main export market, could we be in trouble again, sort of like when mad cow disease hit and the price collapsed and ruined our farm community?”

“I don’t think so”, from Joe, “Don’t forget Trump is a politician as well as a salesman, so he is likely lying most of the time. Anyway he doesn’t have the power to do a lot of what he says; he doesn’t even have as much power as our Canadian Prime Minister.  And we are building up our local market nicely, that will help insulate us local guys from shocks like that.”

After thinking a bit, I went on “I suppose it is a bit like oil, the price of crude bounces all over the place with Saudi princes and Putin and Obama playing games. But the price at the gas stations goes up when crude goes up and takes a long time to go down when crude goes down.”

From Joe “You got it, little buddy, your friend is right, ‘Them Big Companies’ make sure all the corn goes to the big city, and we country folk get the cobs,” and I finished “Or they get the apple pie, and we get the cores”

So we both go home depressed.

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