Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If it is to be it is up to me

We have just had one of those great days on the ranch working cattle that makes it all worth it. Kelli and I and our three daughters, operating off the tailgate of the pickup, worked calves through the portable corral and gave pre-weaning shots. It was one of those rare perfect days, weather and all, and so in celebratory fashion we sat down together to enjoy a big, juicy cheeseburger, fries and corn from the garden. Come to think of it, I don’t remember many cattle-working days that were not followed with burgers and fries, frequently at our local steakhouse. The funny thing is that at the very same time, executives in major cities around the country are meeting in some of nation’s high-end restaurants and ordering $44 dollar Prime steaks. I don’t believe we are much different than any other ranching family by eating the all the beef, from ribs to ribeyes and plenty of ground beef, while the big shots eat only the most expensive.

The thing is we enjoy about days like that one are the cattle portion of the beef business and I believe that is another trait we share with other cattle owners. The problem is that unless we start to understand what it is that high end user needs to know and we learn how to get that information to them, I fear we will lose some of the value of the beef from the cattle we enjoy.

This long, drawn out story about our day does have a point. Just before we headed to the yard to work the cattle, I learned that the operating committee for the Cattlemen’s Beef Board met last week in Nashville and decided not the fund the American National Cattlewomen’s Beef Ambassador program. I have volunteered to work with these kids for the past five years and the progress that I have seen in each team, from the time they start until they finish, was simply unbelievable. I have also witnessed them in their element, taking on meatless agendas and the people behind them. The time spent with the program and the kids has led me to believe that it is the best investment we make with beef check-off dollars.

I fully understand that when you are attempting to allocate funds and your funds have been cut by $7 million, you must do things that you don’t want to do. But the truth of the matter is that we all make choices based on our priorities each and every day. You can do anything that you have a commitment to, if you so choose. The Beef Ambassador program has been operating on $118,000 annually. To think that you could train and support five young beef producers on this meager budget and use them to make over 20 million impressions on consumers about the importance of the beef industry is just hard to even imagine and yet that is exactly what they have done.

You and I are part of the problem here. One area that saw the smallest amount of cut in the budget for 2009 was producer education. Did you know that they have once again authorized $2 million dollars to do nothing but tell cattle producers what the check-off actually does to help cattlemen? Granted, if some money wasn’t spent on this education program, we would have an even bigger wreck in regard to cattlemen understanding the value of the research, development and promotion of the beef products we produce.

So here is where I circle back to where I started. I do understand the joys and rewards of sitting in the saddle and rounding up the cattle. I get that sense of satisfaction in administering animal health products to provide for the health well-being of my cattle. But at the end of the day if we are not educating our consumers, that person in the high end restaurant will not see the value in a $44 dollar piece of prime beef. More importantly, college kids will continue their trend of eliminating meat from their diets completely. Or soccer moms will choose a plant-based product for their kids because they just read in Time magazine that our consumption of beef is causing global warming.

For some reason, our industry leaders don’t believe grass-roots initiatives like the Beef Ambassadors are effective at reaching our consumers and instead we need professional “agency” people. Well, I couldn’t disagree more. First of all, what agency will even look at you for $118,000? None. Secondly, what happened to the old cliché of “pride of ownership”? “Local” food is all the rage and consumers are encouraged to get to know the people that produce the food they buy. Consumers now want to hear from the person who tends to the animals and protects the environment. Instead of giving them what they want and introducing them to our great stewards of natural resources and providers of great products, we have decided it is better, or maybe just easier, to let a third-party be the voice for our producers.

I believe it is time we step up and take a stand for the future of our industry, forget about the Beef Board operating committee and take this matter into our own hands. We have a group of women that have dedicated thousands of hours of effort into training the future leaders of our industry at the state, local and national level. We have a program in place that makes 20 million media impressions, 115,000 consumer impressions and 24,000 student impressions in just one year. Most of these kids are far better spokesmen and much more in-tune with consumers than the good old boys that gather for coffee every morning and cuss about the markets. It’s time the Beef Ambassador program gets the support it deserves. I urge you to contact any member of the American National Cattlewomen or go to their website (www.ANCW.org) and do what you can to support this great program. Your contributions can be mailed to ANCW, PO Box 3881, Englewood CO 80155. Be sure to put Beef Ambassador in the memo. Our donations will be the best investments we can make to help preserve the future of the industry that we love.

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