The Beef industry Long Range Plan: Be Part of the Solution

By: Jill J. Dunkel

With a mission in hand, 16 members of a beef industry task force set forth with the vision of planning how “to responsibly produce the most trusted and preferred protein in the world.” Many meetings, conference calls, webinars and emails later, the group emerged with a plan for the next five years. Although the Beef Industry’s Long Range Plan is multi-faceted, it centers around one primary goal – to increase the wholesale beef demand index by two percent annually or 10% total over the next five years. That goal gives an objective number that the industry can measure and determine the success of the plan.

“If we don’t have demand for our product, we are lost,” said planning committee member Jerry Bohn, manager of Pratt Feeders in Pratt, Kansas. “We came up with an aggressive goal for growing wholesale beef demand. It’s hard when beef is high and pork and poultry are champ, and the dollar value is limited our exports.”

John Butler, CEO of the Beef Marketing Group said he hopes the plan is the defining moment of the future for the industry. “Going into 2016, you’re going to see some divergence from where we’ve been before,” he said. “We want to be known for responsibly producing the most trusted and preferred protein in the world.”

But what can individuals in the industry do to help see the plan through? Donnell Brown of R.A. Brown Ranch also served on the task force and said there are multiple ways individuals can help the plan reach fruition. One way is to be part of the solution and become active in local, state and national organizations.

“Become engaged and involved,” he said. “Let these organizations know you are interested. Serve on committees. Working collectively as a group with a leadership structure, we can make our efforts so much stronger.” From there, he encouraged cattlemen to take the message back to their home state, region and county cattlemen’s organizations to engage local people and share the message.

Another way individuals can take part is becoming engaged in social media. “We felt it was an important part of the plan to better communicate with people who don’t have manure on their boots,” Brown said. “This is something producers can do at home, over a cup of coffee in the morning or whenever they sit down at their computer. Even if you can’t get away to be at an industry meeting, you can be a voice for the industry from your home computer or smart phone. Every family in the business can be a part of the solution this way.”

Brown said helping to educate the public is a great way to drive demand with a generation that is very active on the web. “My wife is posting photos of meals we have, and she’s sharing recipes, taking pictures of our cattle, the great home these cattle have, and sharing the livelihood we have chosen as caretakers.”

Another grassroots way individuals can be involved is through traceability systems. Many countries have traceability, and the task force said that is one area that is holding the United States back in terms of export options.

“It’s happening every day that we can’t get into markets because other competing countries have traceability where they can identify their animals and we do not,” Butler said. “If you look at growth in those countries, it’s tremendous, and at our expense.”

Brown said he is not in favor of a mandatory program, but has been a proponent of voluntary traceability systems as long as he can remember.

“Reality is we need more people to volunteer to do that. By providing a traceability system, we can open up our export markets. We don’t have a critical mass of traceable cattle to provide for those markets that are demanding it,” he said.

Brown believes large acceptance of a voluntary traceability system will take a paradigm shift in the industry. “Our lifestyle is made up of people who love our independence, and some see traceability as giving up that independence. I see it as opening up new markets and providing new opportunities.”

By participating in a voluntary traceability program, producers are able to document health and treatment protocols, which further goes to grow consumer trust. Brown said another byproduct of traceability is the flow of information to and from the producer. The feedback helps producers analyze their operation and determine how they can produce a better product, more efficiently.

Although he doesn’t anticipate every producer to jump on the traceability bandwagon, he said if a significant number participated it could make a difference in beef demand. “Even if it’s just 20% of the population, and we can take those cattle to an export market overseas, that would really grow our market for U.S. beef.”