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cattle industry convention

A No-Show’s Thoughts On Last Week’s Convention

I missed my first national cattle convention in nearly 20 years last week. Whether I was too busy, or just didn’t manage my time efficiently enough to free myself up to go to Tampa, is up for debate, but it actually turned out to be kind of a good thing to miss the convention [3] for once.

The convention is still the only place I’ve ever been where 6,000 ranchers or more will converge in one area. And I was glad to receive texts and calls from friends all week, people I traditionally only see once a year at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) convention [4].

Besides the give and take in the meeting rooms, and the valuable hallway discussions, the tradeshow is always a highlight for me. It’s like a separate symposium because I learn what’s new and exciting in products and services for the industry. And I always come away from a convention simply amazed at the quality and dedication of the volunteer leadership, the membership and the association staff.

Of course, it’s impossible to attend all the hundreds of meetings [5] that go on at each annual convention, but it seems that each and every committee meeting I do usually enter is chock-full of ranchers who care passionately about the issues they are working on. Similarly, I’ve always been amazed at the number of issues that the industry is facing and working on. NCBA isn’t an organization focused on a single, or just a handful of select issues; it addresses the entire gamut.

Attending convention to me is always about getting to pick the brains of some of the brightest, most passionate, and most successful people in our industry. And I always enjoy the political maneuvering that must occur to move an organization of that size, especially on those issues where there isn’t a broad consensus. I always have walked away from the convention with a renewed conviction of just how important it is for the industry to continue to come together and have an organization like NCBA to allow us to effectively deal with the myriad of issues we face. 

Photo Gallery: Tour The 2013 Cattle Industry Convention [6]

If there is a positive to missing the industry’s big annual convention it’s that it allowed me to talk to many people who attended and get their perspective [7] on what they learned.

Despite all the challenges we face, the lack of moisture continues to be the most critical in the short term. As a whole, the industry continues to pray for rain while preparing for continued drought [8]. The situation is certainly more critical than last year, as the area affected is wider. In addition, producers in many of the affected areas have already played out their hand, and don’t have many options if conditions don’t change.

Cattle feeders [9] are not only looking at tight supplies, but overcapacity for that supply; the feedyard sector is in for a tough stretch. While cow-calf producers [10] are excited about record prices and optimistic about what the next 5-8 years promise from a price standpoint, high input prices and drought have minimized the impact of any price improvements.

A Closer Look: Record Prices, Inputs Ahead For Feedlot, Cow-Calf Sectors [11]

In my discussions with convention goers, there seemed to be a growing realization that the industry may have spent too much time worrying about the definition of sustainability [12], or attempting to find common ground with a radical animal welfare [13]outfit that has only one consummate goal – the elimination of animal agriculture. The industry is also faced with the challenge of how to save good technology [14] and utilize scientific advancements in the face of a movement that seems to simply reject anything that could be characterized as modern agriculture.

In addition, our industry is still dealing with internal issues that have divided us and wasted our resources. Conversely, the checkoff [15] no longer seems bent on destroying itself, though it is widely recognized as being underfunded. However, it’s tough to envision a plan to raise the checkoff assessment.

The industry realizes it must boost its ability to deal with issues and build beef demand, but there’s also a growing realization that perhaps the checkoff may not be the best route to accomplish these goals. After all, we no longer labor under the illusion that it is an industry-directed program; it is clearly a government program and entity and thus, by default, has become a political organization in and of itself. The list could go on for pages, and these issues are real and important, but at the same time there is a sense that we have gotten so bogged down in all the minutiae that we have failed to address the real issue that will always be number one – building beef demand.

The industry faces many challenges, but number one is regaining lost domestic beef demand [16]. Even the subsidization of the ethanol industry won’t shrink the industry as much as our inability to regain domestic beef demand. The growth of exports [17] –  and expectations to further improve export figures – is a definite positive story for the industry, but in some ways that success has allowed us to not focus on the real problems our industry is facing relative to demand. 

As always, I commend the tens of thousands of volunteer leaders who work at the local, state and national level on behalf of this industry. The challenges we face are real and they are many, but we have the talent in this industry to persevere.