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Guest Opinions

Learning to Focus

There was a saying on the ranch I grew up on. “Don’t pitch the kids out with the hay.” It wasn’t really a saying, but it should have been. When I was a fuzzy-haired, overall-clad eight-year-old girl, my life revolved around being in the barn. In fact, I once moved my bed out there, but that’s a story for another time. In today’s story, I was helping out in the hayloft. 

In anticipation of a new crop of alfalfa, we were pitching forkfuls of loose hay out of the loft and onto a flatbed below. My job was to move the loose stuff forward from the back of the barn and push it toward my dad who piled it up.  From there, Grandpa, who was armed with the requisite fork, would pitch it out onto the trailer below. On the ground, Grandma and my sister raked up the spillage and put it back on the trailer. Now, I have to admit that my dedication to the mission at-large was far greater than my dedication to my role in achieving the mission.  

The afternoon was hot. Being ready to finish and go to the house for iced tea, Grandpa was pitching like Cy Young trying to get his 512th win. When the fork tine snagged my overall cuff, Grandpa must have thought the catcher tossed him a bowling ball. I sailed from the loft, twisting and writhing in the air as if auditioning for Cirque Du Soleil. I can’t speak to the gracefulness of the dive, but I stuck the landing. Flat. On. My. Back. 

Through the cloud of dust and chaff, I looked up into the horrified faces of Dad, Grandpa and Grandma. I still wonder how fast Grandpa had to run to beat me to the ground. Grandma, who was also a nurse, checked me out and proclaimed me uninjured, but I was banished from the loft for the duration of the project. As I dragged myself to the house in shame, over the squeals of my sister’s laughter and the ringing in my head, I heard Grandpa say, “That Ansel (yes, he called me Ansel) is going to have some hard lessons to learn about staying focused.”  

My Grandfather was right, I had some hard lessons ahead of me, but I pride myself on my ability to focus now not just on the mission at-large but on my role in accomplishing that mission. The mission I am speaking of is ensuring beef checkoff dollars paid by Wyoming cattlemen and women are used in the most effective, efficient and results-oriented manner possible. The purpose of the checkoff is to increase beef demand. Day in, day out, that is what your checkoff dollars are being used for, and I am proud to be executing those producer-determined programs. 

In January, the members of the Wyoming Beef Council spent the better part of two days reviewing the status of the beef industry in Wyoming, the country and world.  For hours they listened, questioned, pondered, strategized and prioritized. There may have even been some ruminating. With so many opportunities for promotion, education and information sharing, they did yeoman’s work honing in on how producer dollars collected in Wyoming could make the greatest impact. 

In the end, these fine producer leaders completed a roadmap for success – a list of priorities and objectives for expenditure of funds. These goals and priorities not only comply with the Beef Promotion Act and Order but maximize the impact and reach of the checkoff, so that every precious dollar is being used in the best way possible toward the goal of increasing demand.  

In the hayloft project, each of us had a job to do and a role in accomplishing the overarching goal. Designing that roadmap is the role of producer leadership, as is choosing projects that fit the priorities. The role of contractors and staff is to propose projects that fit the priorities and execute to the best of our abilities the projects that are approved. It’s a good system, and it makes sense.  

The consumer-related priorities determined by the members of the Wyoming Beef Council in January are all of equal importance and are listed in no particular order. 

They include proactively educating influencers about environmentally, socially and economically sustainable beef production practices; capitalizing on Wyoming’s ranching culture and heritage to improve the image of the beef community among millennials and key thought leaders; providing millennials with recipes and cooking techniques to address their desire for convenient, healthy beef meals; and educating health and nutrition influencers about the nutritional benefits of beef. 

Now you may ask yourself, “What about education?  What about research?” The truth is, education and research are great projects, and they are undoubtedly essential in accomplishing the overarching goal of increasing demand. However, we must be cognizant of our personal and organizational strengths and weaknesses, as well as our budget limitations. 

Questions Council members considered during their planning session were, “What is our greatest strength?” and “How can we use that to make the largest possible impact?”   One of the best things we have on our side is you, Wyoming cattlemen and women, and we are hoping for your support and involvement in upcoming projects. We will be reaching out to millennials with recipes that have Wyoming flair, ranch stories and features about you, as well as having you speak to influencers about what you do as a rancher and why you do it. If you haven’t seen our updated website, wybeef.com, I invite you to take a look. It shows the direction we are trying to take. We also have a new producer e-newsletter that I encourage you to sign up for. The link is on the producer page of the site.  Join us. We need you.  

It’s an exciting time, and I know that by focusing on what we can do better than anyone else and sticking to the plan, we can make advances toward our ultimate goal of keeping beef king of the plate. Avoiding being pitched out of the loft isn’t a bad motivator, either.