Looking ahead in the beef industry

Will 2017 be historic or a headache?

Cattlemen need to be optimists by nature, and the New Year always brings a new sense of hope.

I suppose it could be argued that there is absolutely no difference this week from last, except we are simply seven days farther down the road. However, there is something about the New Year; it is a fresh beginning, a demarcation line. Cattlemen need to be optimists by nature, and the New Year always brings a new sense of hope. 

I can feel that renewed vigor among beef producers. I’m guessing the negativity of the last election and the divisions within the American constituency makes the feeling especially poignant this New Year. The mainstream media has been totally perplexed by the sentiment of mainstream Americans as of late, and I think their insistent focus on the divisions among us is missing the bigger point once again. 

 Yes, this country is divided like it has never been, whether you look at it geographically or demographically. It is true that the two coasts and the center of the nation are diametrically opposed. Whether you look at the electorate from an age perspective—no generations have been more discussed and cussed than baby boomers and millennials—location (city vs. rural, north vs. south), race, gender or political ideology, it appears that America is divided and conflicted like never before.  

Compromise is now analogous to weakness, and has become a word chalked full of negative connotations. Consensus is a term that seems unfathomable in an “us against them” world. In fact, the only time you see the word used is when we are discussing science. The great irony is that the one area where the word has no meaning is the world of science.

Science isn’t something that changes with world views or political ideologies. It is supposed to be hard facts, not cherry-picking theories to advance one’s agenda. The mainstream media sees all of this and the general discontent among all groups about the direction of the country and perceive it as pessimism and decline. 

I think they are wrong. I think the average American is growing increasingly discontent with the political class and activist groups that have sought to divide and categorize us to their own benefit and not the benefit of the whole.

Pundits have struggled to explain Trump’s victory, as it defies every piece of conventional wisdom we know, except the obvious conclusion that America is ready for change and has a desire to move forward in a positive way. Large blocks of voters supporting Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in this last election showed that America is rejecting the status quo and demanding a time where we move forward again aggressively. 

That is what I see for 2017 in the beef community as well. Certainly markets, weather and government involvement will continue to play huge roles in shaping the course of our industry in the upcoming year. But we certainly can’t control the weather, we can only work to ensure a level playing field when it comes to the markets, and our survival is reliant on fighting on a daily basis the war against government overreach.

In the end, however, we have minimal impact on those three areas. The last 20 years were shaped by markets, by weather and by internal fighting and power struggles. I think 2017 is the beginning of the end for those drivers. Instead, 2017 appears to be the year where the industry is focusing on what truly matters – efficiency of production, quality of our product and concentrating on the consumer domestically and globally.  

The industry is saying 2017 is the year to focus on those drivers that we can shape, and that will determine our competitiveness and profitability both in the short and long term. 

2017 is shaping up to be the year of transformation. Irrespective of what segment you are in, the rules are being rewritten in 2017. The seedstock, cow-calf and feeding industries are all seeing transformation in their business models at a rate they have not seen in over 25 years. The structure of our markets, of the packing industry, of industry organizations and of the entire distribution chain will follow.  I believe 2017 will go down as the year that the industry embraces its tremendous challenges and opportunities. 

Like the country, the beef industry has spent the last 20 years growing increasingly frustrated as it discusses changes and goes about maintaining the status quo. Sustainability is the new buzz word, and the conclusion or consensus that has formed is simply that the status quo is not sustainable. Transformation equates to bigger losers and bigger winners, more volatility, more risk, more ups, more downs, more questions and more false starts, but it also means more opportunity and more excitement. 2017 may not be any different than any other year, but those who treat 2017 as a truly historic year are poised to make history. My hope and my belief is that for the beef industry, 2017 will truly be historic!

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