It was, back in the late 1960s, a radical idea. But what grew out of brainstorming by the Market Development Committee of the old American National Cattlemen’s Association became CattleFax, a premier market information service recognized and respected throughout the industry.
To recognize those contributions, Topper Thorpe, the first CattleFax market analyst and then 30-year CEO, was honored recently with the Industry Achievement Award. The award is sponsored by Certified Angus Beef, Zoetis, Purina, Roto-Mix and Feedlot magazine.
Thorpe grew up on a livestock and crop operation near Las Cruces, NM and graduated from New Mexico State University in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in ag business and a master’s in ag business in 1968.
In 1968, Thorpe moved to Denver where he became the first market analyst for the newly created CattleFax, where he worked as an analyst for two years. He then became executive vice president and CEO, a position he held for 30 years. He retired from CattleFax in 2001 and returned to the family operation, where he now runs stocker cattle and produces irrigated crops.
“The key to being an analyst is you’ve got to enjoy working with people and you’ve got to want to help them,” Thorpe says. “And you’ve got to be able to do that in a way where you don’t dictate to them what they should or could do, but provide them with the information they need to make a better and more profitable decision than they could otherwise.”
He says no one he knows who considers themselves a market forecaster can do it perfectly. “Seems like there’s always something that you may not have anticipated that comes up that has an influence the situation and changes the end result. So it’s always a challenge to project markets, and it’s always humbling. I think that’s one of the things that makes it so interesting; you don’t get cocky for very long because you’ll get your head handed to you.”
CattleFax was created over concerns about USDA data and a strong feeling that beef producers needed industry-wide information that could provide more timely and accurate information on which they could make more profitable decisions, Thorpe says.
“In the early stages, there was a very antagonistic relationship between packers and retailers, between packers and feeders, and even between feeders and cow-calf producers. There were concerns about what was going to happen to the information, whether it was going to be kept private and how it was going to be handled,” he explains.
Those sentiments still exist today in a more limited sense, but the change has been dramatic, he adds. “There are still some who feel that way, but for the most part, there’s a better relationship between the various segments of the industry and I think everybody is beginning to realize that we’re all in the beef business.”
That ongoing realization has resulted in a better beef product, he believes. “Quality is, at least at this point, being related to value and if in fact there is increased value based on quality, then obviously it’s very important and will become more important,” he says.
“If you look at other industries, that’s an important part of marketing and establishing some brand loyalty. And I think we’ll continue to see that,” Thorpe adds.
“Over time, as the methods for measuring quality are refined and more easily identified, I would guess it will continue to become an extremely important part of marketing and decision-making in terms of what you produce and how do you produce it and then ultimately, where it’s actually marketed. I think that’s a very positive part of our business and my guess is that as time goes on, it will continue to be.”
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