Extension by Steve PaisleyWritten by Steve Paisley
By Steve Paisley, UW Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
Recently I’ve spent a lot of windshield time thinking about one of the unique challenges of our beef industry. We are all aware that the farming and ranching community continues to shrink. People directly involved in agriculture represent a very small segment of our population, and many estimates suggest that agricultural producers are less than two percent of our current population.
You might be a farmer/rancher if…
As we all know, the challenge becomes trying to portray our industry, way of life and values to the other 98 percent, which is our potential consumers. In many ways, it’s challenging for us to communicate and connect with our consumers. Our personal experiences and frames of reference are uniquely different, to the point where some jokes only make sense to farmers and ranchers.
For example, “You might be a farmer/rancher if…” : 1) You have NEVER thrown away a five-gallon bucket, no matter what; 2) You consider driving to a bull sale a “short vacation;” 3) When you see the word “elevator,” you immediately think of trucks, livestock feed or grain; 4) You consider going to a feed meeting based on the condition of the current cap you are wearing; and 5) Your wintertime entertainment equipment also pulls double duty as your calf sled.
As farmers and ranchers, we enjoy getting together and sharing stories. We’re a closely-knit group of “specialists” who perform a job with high occupational hazards, long hours and plenty of fresh air. The challenge becomes communicating those stories to our clientele and consumers, and improving our communication with the other 98 percent.
Are we up to the
challenges of our
This leads us to another interesting dilemma: We are experiencing rapid changes in our industry. Many of the changes in our industry are no longer slow, and are no longer closely related to biology or environment. Many of the most important factors affecting our industry right now are caused by legislative and governmental decisions, and they require quick responses to remain competitive. The average age of the consumer has not changed to the same degree that our beef industry has matured. Priorities, ethics and traditions that are important to our beef producers do not necessarily match with those of our consumers.
To me, this is one of our most important tasks within the industry. It should be on the top of our “to-do list.” Our beef owner/operator/managers are at a time of transition. Are we still open to new technologies and tools? Are we receptive to our consumer demands? Are we still focused on growing our industry? Beef demand, prices and the overall outlook for our industry are extremely positive. There are challenges, but there are also many opportunities. I know we will continue to meet those challenges, and hopefully capitalize on our current opportunities.
Masters of Beef Advocacy
I feel that, although we are a small segment of the population, we all have several opportunities to interact with our customers. Some of these opportunities include conversations we have with people when we are travelling, emails and Facebook posts, discussions with distant relatives and the occasional tour groups, visitors and media opportunities.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has developed a great tool to give us, the two percent minority, some facts and talking points to positively promote our industry when the opportunity arises. The MBA, or Masters of Beef Advocacy, is a program designed to help us tell our story to the consumer. The MBA is a self-directed online training program designed to equip beef producers and industry allies with the information they need to be everyday advocates for the beef industry. MBA candidates are required to complete six courses in beef advocacy, which include: 1) modern beef production practices; 2) animal care and husbandry practices; 3) beef food safety principles; 4) the positive story of beef in healthy diets; 5) our dedication to environmental stewardship; and 6) the history and positive impact of our Beef Checkoff program.