Despite all the terrible, rotten, ugly things that have happened during this COVID-19 pandemic, I’m still hopeful.
Trust me, I’m aware of the troubles facing the beef industry, and the increasingly hateful and polarizing rhetoric on social media regarding the typical hot topics such as the packer, mCOOL, trade and feeding a global population of 8 billion people.
The realities of it all can sometimes hit you like a slap in the face, and I will admit, I’ve struggled with how to best serve the BEEF reader during these uncertain times.
Do I stoke the flames of fear like so many others? Do I focus on the ills we face in this industry? Do I try to rally folks together to enact positive change, even though getting a bunch of independent ranchers to work collectively can be like attempting to herd cats?
Throughout it all, especially as I’ve seen folks get downright nasty to one another on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve felt the need to take a step back, get some fresh air on the ranch, fix some fence and think about what I stand for and what my guiding principles for myself and my ranch will be moving forward.
What I’ve concluded through this self-reflection and research of the current challenges we face in the beef industry is two-fold.
First, now more than ever, strong voices are needed in our states and our nation’s Capitol.
We cannot simply let one or two major lobbying agencies be the voice for the entire industry. We need to pick up the phone and share our individual stories, so our politicians can begin to form a better understanding of the challenges that plague us in the cattle industry today.
I recently had the opportunity to visit on the phone with a very intelligent rancher from Alabama, who shared some of his concerns about the future of individual producers in this industry. And instead of continuing to be victim of the same system he’s been playing in for so long, he’s changing the script and writing new rules for how he will raise and market his cattle moving forward.
And you know what? I think he’ll be successful because he’s doing some very important things — researching, learning, innovating, pivoting and getting creative.
We cannot sit in the proverbial mud waiting for effective change or a great knight on a white horse to save us. The cowboy ain’t dead, yet, but the cowboy is going to have to fight tooth and nail to save his future.
And once he starts fighting, he might notice that there are similarities amongst the producers who have found profitability in this business. It is my hope that this period of pain and growth and change will ultimately lead to better genetics, better management, better beef and a better appreciation from our consumers who value what we do on the ranch.
And that leads me to my second point. It has been truly a delight to see more and more people asking, “How can I buy beef direct from a rancher?”
Obviously, this doesn’t fix the bottleneck issue we face in feeding the masses, so don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here. Yet, is it any less noble for a producer to sell to his friends and neighbors than to sell into the traditional commodity market? Both are valid marketing options that meet different producer goals, so why do the conversations seem to be divided as if it’s one or the other?
What this trend for supporting local producers reveals to me is that consumers want our product. They want transparency in that product. They want to support you, their local rancher. They want to learn more about how beef is raised. And perhaps for the first time, they are becoming educated on buying a beef, not one hamburger patty or steak at a time, but by the half or quarter.
I appreciate articles like this one, from the Tri-State Livestock News, that offers a Q&A on what to expect when buying beef from a rancher.
Here’s another great one from Amanda Blair, South Dakota South University Extension meat science specialist, who offers requirements and resources for rancher on meat inspection and selling beef.
Here’s a great video from the “Midwestern Butcher,” who explains what to expect when buying beef from a meat locker.
And those are just a few examples of how the beef industry is stepping up to the plate to serve as a valuable resource for our consumers.
At the end of the day, if we truly want to be successful in this industry, we need to learn, grow and serve our clients. Their needs and demands may continue to change and evolve, but if we continually strive to provide a great beef-eating experience, while also building relationships and providing information as needed, then I do believe that we have a bright future in this industry.
So during May Beef Month and beyond — we fight. We fight to improve what we do on our ranches. We fight to enact change. We fight to learn and understand every segment of this industry, from pasture to plate. We fight to keep our legacies intact. And we fight to raise the best beef possible to give our customers a protein source that they can’t get enough of.
How we do all of that may change and evolve over time, but never discount the power of a scrappy rancher fighting to keep his American dream alive.
Remember folks — focus on what you can control. Hold your ground and stand firm in your principles. Seek truth and let facts guide your decisions.
And be kind to others. As we navigate through these difficult times, we don’t know what burdens others may be carrying.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.