Last weekend, I spoke at a meeting for one of my favorite groups, the South Dakota Cattlemen's Auxiliary. This dynamic group of women practically raised me, and they have served as mentors to me ever since I was a 10-year-old South Dakota Junior Beef Ambassador. This group works tirelessly in promoting beef, tackling tough issues in the industry and working to share the positive stories of who we are as ranchers. At the meeting, we discussed some very hot topics in the cattle business today, and while most of them don't have easy answers or solutions, I've summed up the top five for further discussion in the blog.
 1. National Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Program: BQA is a national program that provides guidelines for beef cattle production. The program raises consumer confidence through offering proper management techniques and a commitment to quality within every segment of the beef industry. BQA is the right thing to do, and at a time when animal rights activists are using videos portraying abusive ranchers, BQA is a way to show consumers that the majority of us in agriculture truly care about our animals and treat them well. BQA also helps provide a quality, safe end product and increases producers’ bottom line. So, why aren’t more producers BQA certified? Are you? Link here  to learn more and get your ranch BQA certified.
 2. The Beef Checkoff Program: With fewer ranchers raising fewer cattle in the U.S., there are fewer checkoff dollars available to be used for consumer advertising, marketing partnerships, public relations, education, research and new-product development. The checkoff was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1/head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. The checkoff assessment became mandatory when the program was approved by 79% of producers in a 1988 national referendum vote. Although this program has been around for 25 years, there is still great confusion among cattle producers about how these dollars are spent. Did you know that for every dollar invested in the checkoff there is a $5.50 return? How can we educate producers about the benefit of the checkoff? Do you think the $1 assessment should be raised? To how much? Learn more about the program here .
 3. Beef Demand: Per-capita consumption of beef has decreased to 58 lbs./year, and in this struggling economy, consumers are choosing cheaper protein alternatives like turkey and chicken to serve their families. This trend started in 2008 at the start of the recession and has continued its downward spiral. How can we boost beef demand? How can we show consumers that they can trade down from higher-value beef cuts to more affordable options and still enjoy a delicious beef meal? What can we do to encourage consumers to choose beef in the summer months?
 4. Young Producers: With the competition for land and ag credit getting tougher, and rising input costs for feed, fuel and fertilizer, the challenges producers face in the beef business are huge. It’s no wonder the average age of the U.S. rancher is 58 years old! With a growing number of ranches closing their doors, we are losing people in production agriculture. How can we encourage and support young people pursuing careers in food production? What advice do you have for new farmers and ranchers?
 5. Planting 2011: The Southwest is gripped in drought. The Midwest is struggling with floods. Earlier this week, my area was hit with a hail storm. Farmers and ranchers alike are closely watching the corn and bean outlook for 2011. What will feed prices look like this fall? Are your crops in the ground? How are things looking in your neck of the woods?
These are the top five topics on my radar this week. What issues are you thinking about? What areas of concern do you wish to discuss in future blog posts? Most importantly, what's your take on BQA, the beef checkoff, beef demand, young producers and planting 2011?
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