Perhaps it's simply due to our human nature that we exalt the critics around us. We all can take comfort in the status quo, in those who claim to protect us from change, but critics largely just disrupt progress with their combination of pessimism and fear.
It's time to embrace the creators within our industry and country, and relegate the critics to their proper role — a necessary evil that, at times, serve a vital role but generally are impediments to more rapid progress.
Our industry is faced with ever-growing regulation at the state and federal levels. Lawsuits, once an aberration, are now the preferred means of battle by some. Activist groups pound us relentlessly in the media. They pounce upon internal industry problems, or storms like BSE and the corresponding errors in dealing with it, to raise questions about our product.
Recently, I attended a market outlook by Cattle-Fax's Randy Blach. His talk differed from the typical market outlook in that he eloquently addressed the whole issue of critics and creators.
As the industry moves into the lower prices of the down cycle, he said, critics will invoke the old scapegoats and villains. His advice is clear: The facts are straightforward; if one gets caught up in the wave of thoughts and rhetoric coming from critics, it's easy to miss opportunities.
For creators, there will be more opportunity through this down cycle than any time in history, he says. While the critics have advanced their clouds of pessimism, the industry has changed — dramatically.
Take national ID. While critics protest, those with a consumer focus embrace it, and have received premiums for source- and age-verified cattle of $10-$35/head. That's not a bad return on a $2 tag and a little paperwork.
Critics challenged the constitutionality of the checkoff and preached that beef demand is not cow-calf producers' concern. Meanwhile, the creators dramatically altered the beef demand landscape, and it's driven record prices and record profitability.
Demand's profit difference
Blach says the average profit per calf for cow-calf producers was $2.35/head from 1980-2000, and the total profit for the cow-calf sector over that 20-year period was $630 million. From 2000-2005 (beef demand began to turn around in 1998), profitability jumped to $104/head and profit was $18.6 billion.
The creators will continue to be more consumer focused and driven, striving to raise beef's market share and cementing its position in the center of the plate. Meanwhile, critics will continue to rant about the injustices and disruptions created by value-based marketing, brands and the various marketing alliances that align market signals with quality. The trouble for critics, however, is the premiums are growing, and so are the numbers of producers taking advantage of these programs.
While critics complain about our competitiveness and the demands for efficiency and quality improvement, the creators are expanding global markets and regaining market share lost as a result of BSE incidents in the U.S. They're positioning themselves to take advantage of the growing global demand for beef.
While the critics warn of impending threats, the creators talk of tremendous opportunities to be grasped.
The question is: Whom will you align with, and which future will you prepare for? The challenge is straightforward and the competing visions are so polar that the response to preparing for either scenario leaves little middle ground.
Dave Nichols, the sage from Nichols Farms in Anita, IA, recently characterized the situation well. He said, Columbus didn't argue with the folks who claimed the world was flat; he just got in the boat. We all have to decide whether we'll set our sails with the creators or the critics.
Troy Marshall is editor of Seedstock Digest, and a weekly contributor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, a free weekly newsletter delivered by e-mail every Friday afternoon. To subscribe to BEEF magazine's BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly newsletter, which provides timely news, opinion and analysis of events and trends of particular importance to the cow-calf production segment, visit www.beef-mag.com.