Special to The Free Press
Consumer misunderstanding, biased media reporting, increasing government regulations, limited agriculture representation in lawmaking, exports and market fluctuation.
That’s a long list of issues that have made an impact on cattle ranchers’ bottom line, Tracy Brunner, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told fellow ranchers at the 30th annual Flint Hills Beef Fest hosted earlier this month in Emporia by WIBW Radio.
Brunner is a fourth-generation cattleman near Ramona; his children, nieces and nephews are the fifth generation of the family operation.
Brunner said the issues he cited are above and beyond the rancher’s primary expertise: breeding, birthing, raising from calves to slaughter plant, cattle that are tasty and nutritious demanded by housewives and their families.
Ranchers know how to manage their cattle operations professionally, he said, but “that long list” of side issues generally is not their forte.
But the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association aims to help the industry with those difficult dilemmas.
And what better leader for the cattle industry than someone who lives it from every perspective?
With his immediate family, plus his brothers and their families, the Brunners’ Cow Camp Ranches are involved in every aspect of the business: cow-calf, seed stock, backgrounding, grazing, feedlot finishing, grid marketing and much more.
Brunner said national headlines have wrongly informed readers about meat, showing examples such as, “Meat is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk.”
Because the majority of consumers live far from the land and have little familiarity with the industry, they are easily misled to believe those stories.
“Our job as leaders of the beef industry is to correct that misinformation,” Brunner said.
The NCBA works with state beef councils and the Beef Checkoff in global marketing and research, with direct efforts toward consumer marketing and market research.
“Through NCBA’s work with nutritionists, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported studies verifying that lean beef included in heart-healthy diet reduces cholesterol 10 percent,” Brunner said.
Additional family and home publications then printed features noting that higher beef consumption increases protein, vitamins, and minerals.
In a series of PowerPoint slides, the Beef Checkoff campaign, “It’s What’s for Dinner,” has promoted a “kid-friendly fare” verifying that beef’s protein contributes positively to growing bodies.
NCBA efforts to “debunk myths about beef” have emphasized regard for animal welfare, including use of antibiotics for best care of animals.
“Our survival depends on doing what’s right for our cattle,” Brunner said.
Noting that the word “sustainability” has received considerable media coverage, Brunner said the Beef Checkoff launched a comprehensive lifecycle assessment to quantify environmental, social and economic aspects of beef industry sustainability.
Efforts have included increased use of precision farming techniques, higher crop yields, improved cattle genetics, health and nutrition, and more biogas capture and conversion.
Top NCBA priorities this year include passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, positive guidance for Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and keeping a watchful eye on foreign animal diseases, Endangered Species Act reform and market volatility.
“Cattlemen support open markets, level playing fields and science-based standards in international trade,” Brunner said.
Work is continuing to develop integrated domestic-foreign trade policy to encourage reciprocity, eliminate unfair trade restrictions and movement toward private enterprise and free markets.
“Trade means more than $325 of added value per head,” Brunner said.
Regulations involving WOTUS (Waters of the U.S.), ozone regulations and RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) are being closely monitored by beef leaders.
Japan had been the largest export market for U.S. beef, but a single case of BSE, commonly referred to as “mad cow disease,” took that to zero in 2004.
“Again, imports of beef are increasing to Japan, due to NCBA leadership, but there is a strong competition from Australia,” Brunner said.
“Importation of Brazilian and Argentinian beef is opposed not only on the basis of trade, but on the basis of animal-health concerns,” he added. “No trade is worth jeopardizing our herd health.”
Environmental groups use the Endangered Species Act as a weapon against ranchers, Brunner said.
“Cattlemen bear the brunt of severe land and resource restriction and countless lawsuits brought by environmentalists funded by taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Extreme week-to-week price swings in cash markets, combined with equal volatility in the futures market, has made marketing decisions difficult to impossible for U.S. cattle producers, especially feeder cattle.
“The NCBA is working to help resolve these issues,” Brunner said., but he added: “It’s up to you. Cattlemen must work together to be a much stronger industry.”