Watch the video interview with Jay Lehr here.
Do you have 30 minutes a week to devote to your industry? That’s all Jay Lehr asks of you – a half hour each week helping the other 98% who aren’t involved in agriculture understand the extent to which cattlemen go to produce safe, wholesome beef.
Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute in Chicago, told cattle feeders attending the Cattle Feeders Business Summit in Denver of his recent stay at a Colorado feedyard. Even for Lehr, who has been involved in agriculture for 50 years, the experience was eye-opening, he says.
“Everybody else in the world who isn’t in your business has no clue how wonderfully, humanely, these cattle are looked at,” he says. “They have no idea you’re on top of every health innovation. They have no idea that your primary purpose is to put that steak on the table of the American consumer, so that they can eat well and healthy. And the reason they have no idea is your fault, because you’re not telling them.”
Lehr understands why that is. Cattlemen are busy and focused on their daily challenges and they may think consumers don’t want to hear from them. Secondly, they’re afraid that if they do engage in a conversation with consumers, they’re going to get writer/activist Michael Pollan thrown in their face. “And you don’t feel like you want to get into an argument with him. But if you don’t, who’s going to do it for you?”
Many cattlemen may think that’s their trade associations’ job. And they do a good job, Lehr says. “I have worked with well over 100 agricultural trade associations in my more than 50-year career in agriculture,” he says. “I’ve not run into a single one superior to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) in terms of its efforts to teach you and the public about your industry.”
But trade associations can’t do it all. “No matter how big they are, no matter how much money they get from the checkoff, they simply have a small voice nationally.” Lehr says until every single human being working in the industry decides that part of their dues to the industry isn’t just what they pay to their trade associations, cattlemen will always play defense. “Their dues are to spend perhaps 30 minutes a week talking to people about what we’re really about.”
To equip yourself for the conversation, Lehr encourages every cattlemen to complete the Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program that NCBA sponsors. And he encourages every cattleman to read “Cattlemen’s Stewardship Review," produced by NCBA with checkoff funding. “This is your bible for talking with the public,” he says.
Many cattlemen live in rural communities and probably assume that everyone there knows the care they take in raising their cattle and protecting the land. But that may not necessarily be true.
“There’s a drugstore in your community and there’s a pharmacist in that drugstore who doesn’t know anything about what you do. Or the people at the service station or the grocery store. They don’t learn about our industry by osmosis because they live in your town.”
Helping spread the word is as simple as striking up a conversation with these people and telling your story, Lehr says. Beyond that, he suggests that you use the social media now available, such as YouTube. “Get your kids and go out and make a three-minute movie of your operation – of the cleanliness, the beauty of your operation. Put it on YouTube. If you don’t know how, your kids can show you.”
Lehr says the beef industry needs a massive uprising to get its story out. “The biggest problem in our industry are the myths and lies that are told about us,” he says. “We’ve got to undo it, and we’ve got to undo it one person at a time.”