Beef LeaderWritten by Christy Hemken
Cody — Cody dairy producer Scott George has been involved full-time with his family’s milking operation since 1977 and he says he’s slowly worked his way through National Beef Federation leadership until he landed as Vice-Chairman early in 2009.
“The Wyoming Beef Council has to have representatives from every aspect of the beef industry, and there are few dairymen in Wyoming so I became involved with that board,” says George of how he got his start.
George’s parents homesteaded the family’s current home place midway between Cody and Powell in 1947 and began with their dairy herd in 1954 after they needed to diversify their crop farm. Today the farm employs several people full time, milks over 400 head each day and produces its own forage for the dairy herd.
George’s new role as Vice-Chairman of the National Beef Federation means more travel away from the farm, and more time spent on conference calls and keeping up with current events.
“This year I’ve already been to a national beef safety meeting, where representatives from every aspect of the beef packing, shipping and retailing industries were present, all in one room,” he says.
He details how the meeting focused on everything from the science of how to make the perfect hamburger – using a perfect mix of frozen, chilled and fresh ground beef to maintain an ideal chilled temperature – to how to best market beef in a supermarket’s beef case.
He says one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. beef industry today is the overabundance of middle meats. “With recent consumer trends the number of people purchasing the middle cuts of beef out of the case has dropped, which means we now have this large supply of beef with nowhere to go,” he says. “The Beef Federation has worked with supermarket managers to bring the prices of those meats down so they’ll move and get the supply chain moving again.”
He says one of the biggest challenges is getting the supermarket managers to drop their prices, which they don’t want to do because when they raise them again to match rising beef prices their customers will object.
“Instead of lowering their prices to meet the current beef market they enjoy those increased profit margins while they last,” says George, noting that he is pleased to have noticed a drop in beef prices at local grocers.
According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the checkoff has helped drive consumer interest in beef middle meats. It says beef retail sales are up four percent over this time last year, so now more checkoff dollars are being directed toward further middle meat promotional efforts.
The checkoff continues to target middle meats with a campaign to remind consumers that beef is a great choice for every meal occasion, whether the meal is served in a restaurant or prepared at home.
George names that campaign as just one of the areas the National Beef Federation currently spends beef checkoff dollars.
The biggest challenge, he says, to the beef checkoff program today is rising costs. “We don’t even do TV advertising anymore, because we just can’t afford it. We’ve had to move to strictly print and radio advertising,” he notes.
He says one of his biggest regrets, with budget cuts, is that the Federation’s been forced to cut valuable programs, including youth education, of which George was chairman.
“We’ve already gone through and cut programs that weren’t as effective. Now we’re to the point where we’re cutting the good programs that have been very successful,” he says. Another program that hasn’t made the priority list is the Beef Ambassador program, and George worries the Beef Cook-Off will undergo close scrutiny in the near future.
“The Cook-Off is an excellent program that gains beef an hour of national publicity on the Food Network, but I’m afraid they’ll let that one go, too,” he says.
George says the over-supply of beef in the U.S. hasn’t affected the cow/calf producer in Wyoming yet, but he expects to see negative effects this fall. “Right now the feeders are losing $300 per head in their lot, and when it comes time to buy calves again this fall they won’t want as many, and that’s when our producers in Wyoming will start to see it,” he says.
Of the dairy industry, George says it’s experienced the same challenges as beef in general. However, he and his family continue to manage their herd to the best of their ability through new tools both commercially available and invented and manufactured locally for their operation.