Thursday, August 18, 2005

How my mules inspired me

I spend a great deal of time focusing on the special interest groups that are attempting to chase food production from U.S. soil. We all know who most of those groups are and that they have large budgets to implement their plans. However, I believe the true challenge we face in agriculture is ourselves. The oldest war strategy known to man is Divide and Conquer. Special interest groups are undoubtedly marveling as we continue to fragment our industry into smaller and smaller factions.

I typically stay away from issues that could contribute to the division, but no more. You’ll probably even find my source of inspiration to be somewhat humorous. We usually have about seven horses at the house including saddle horses and young horses that I am starting to ride. Earlier this summer I brought home two donkeys and, without giving it a thought, I simply put my two jacks right in with my horses. Unfortunately, the horses had different ideas.

Upon sight of these long eared critters, all seven horses, as if in choreographed unison, cleared a five-foot panel and bolted to freedom. Two of them didn’t slow down until they were a quarter of a mile down the road. Two months passed and I still couldn’t get them in the same pen. They would tolerate fence line contact but they simply would not be together. All that changed when I brought home two black mules.

When I got home it dawned on me that I might need a third pen. I decided instead to introduce the mules to the horses. They all acted like they were old buddies. One day the mules were exploring and accidentally got in with the donkeys. I had no idea what to expect but the mules seemed to get along with the donkeys just as well. Obviously the next step would be to open all the gates and see what would happen.

If I hadn’t witnessed it myself, I probably wouldn’t believe it. The donkeys and the horses taunted each other and the mules ran in between trying to break it up. The mules actually acted as negotiators for the common good. Today I am happy to report that all of my equine are in one pen and get along fabulously. In the interest of attempting the repair the damage that has been done in the beef industry, I am taking it upon myself to be the mule.

We are constantly struggling with the fact that we in agriculture have such a small number of people that it is tough to get our message out. In the same breath we attempt to dismantle one segment of the industry into even smaller factions. Would you be surprised to learn that the issues we, as an industry, are divided on such as the border closing, country of origin labeling and the check-off are always on the agenda at the animal rights meetings I have attended? These people recognize that the easiest way to destroy American agriculture is to let us do it ourselves.

The irony of the current situation is that we, in the beef industry, have accused the animal rights groups of using emotion instead of logic and facts. If you honestly evaluate what is creating the division that exists in today’s beef industry, it is emotions and not facts.

As the self-appointed industry mule, I feel compelled to share one more thing. I have witnessed two national groups who use issues like COOL as divisionary tactic rather than really debating the merits or downfalls of the labeling. How many times when COOL comes up will the justification be anti-R-Calf or anti-NCBA reasoning? I don’t really care about the groups that represent the individuals involved in food production. I care about the families and the people who are involved. I care that each one of those families is doing everything possible to ensure a better opportunity for our kids in the greatest endeavor man has ever been a part of - FEEDING THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD.

There is one statistic that seems to say it all. USDA reports indicate that 800,000 individuals own cattle. The two organizations that claim to represent cattle owners report memberships between 40,000 and 50,000. Where is everybody else? The worst thing that can happen is that the majority of the beef producers will sit around drinking coffee in town, complaining about what this group or that group is doing or not doing, and they won’t show up at the proper venue to voice their concerns where they can have an impact on the future of the industry. The only path that I see to regain unity in the beef industry is for all beef producers to join both organizations. That way we may have an impact on what is left for the next generation.

In conclusion, this may be far from original and old and cliché but undoubtedly it is still appropriate: United we stand or divided we shall fall.

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