I kicked off 2020 with a four-part series tackling some of the most divisive topics facing the beef industry today — mCOOL, labeling, the Beef Checkoff, marketing, packer consolidation, imports vs. exports, fake meats and how ranchers can make a living when the ground continues to shift under our feet.
This series was inspired by a meeting I attended in my local community, where there was a lot of discussion about the best way for beef producers to move forward in an ever-changing world. In case you missed the series, you can read it here:
Ranching Voices Part 1: How can producers take back control?
Ranching Voices Part 2: DV Auction's Corbitt Wall on what ails us
Ranching Voices Part 3: Don't throw the Beef Checkoff baby out with the bath water
Ranching Voices Part 4: Does the consumer really care what the label says?
Naturally, anytime I stick my neck out and voice my opinions on some of these polarizing issues, I receive plenty of hateful feedback. It comes with the territory of having a public platform like the BEEF Daily blog, and with more than a decade of writing my opinions on the beef industry every Monday through Thursday, I guess I deserve the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with the freedom of getting to share my honest opinions with such a wide audience.
In recent weeks, I’ve been called “a notoriously passive aggressive mud slinger,” a “bought-and-paid for hack,” “fake news media” and let’s not forget the time I was called, “a zombie serial killer.” I don't share this to make anybody feel sorry for me or to ask people to take it easy on me, but because I have this platform, I would like to take a moment to address this type of feedback.
Here’s my two cents on that:
I live the same way that I present myself on social media. I have a big heart for the cattle business, and I’ve got boots on the ground practicing what I preach. I live and breathe this industry. I pay the feed bills, land rent, vet visits, etc. just like every other producer reading this blog. And I go out and try to connect with consumers either on social media or in person every single day.
I purposefully don’t belong to any cattlemen’s organization or association, simply because of this blog. While I encourage everyone to get actively involved with an outfit that reflects your views and values, from a writer's perspective, I have always wanted to be able to take an unbiased look at every association and reflect upon the world as I see it from that vantage point.
It goes without saying, every agricultural association has their own priorities and beliefs. As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I personally see good and bad spots in every group that I cover on this blog.
With that in mind, my views and beliefs are shaped not by lobbyists or packers in my ear. I don’t know a packer, do you? Instead, my opinions are first filtered through my lens as a Catholic. If it doesn’t align with my faith and my belief in God, I don’t do it and don’t believe it.
Additionally, my opinions are based on my personal experiences in the cattle business. Guess what? I experienced the same crappy 2019 that you all did. I dealt with the cold, the mud, the blizzards, the flooding, the markets, the rising input costs, etc. I sold calves this fall just like the rest of you and took a beating after what I saw as a “bad sort.” I moaned and whined all the way to the bank, and frankly, I even cried a few tears.
I’ve had my moments, just like all of you, where I wondered, what the heck am I doing running cattle? And I see the wolves at the gates just waiting to devour the sheep in the pastures. Trust me, I’m aware of the folks who would love to gobble up the land and the control of producers and our food supply.
I’m scared just like all of you, but in the darkest times, come real opportunities. You want to know what the best thing I see about our industry is?
It’s the people. Ranchers are tough, resilient, determined, disciplined, focused, passionate, adaptable, innovative, faithful and hard-working. We don’t give up when times get tough, and we don’t just want ourselves, but also our neighbors, to succeed. We want to see our rural communities thrive, so we can continue to raise our children at home on the ranch, where there are opportunities for them to grow and become successful agricultural entrepreneurs themselves.
So what do we have to do to get from point A (where we stand today) and point B (where we feel confident again in our future in this industry)?
First, we address cash flow problems.
If you’re not making money now, what strategies can you implement in the very short-term to turn things around? Can you market larger groups of calves by collaborating with your neighbors to have better leverage at sale time? Can you go direct to the consumer and say “see ya” to the ups and downs of the traditional commodity market? Can you raise your cattle differently to earn a premium? Can you get a side hustle to help make the payments in the short term?
The average millionaire today has seven different revenue streams, according to Thomas Stanley, author of the “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy,” so why should agriculture be any different?
Second, what are you doing to fight for institutional change?
I can’t and won’t trust the government to come in on a white horse to save me, but if the system is truly broken like so many believe, then let's continue to fight to get things fixed for our future. But don’t skip step one while you fight; you might not be in business by the time meaningful change happens if you don’t take care of things at home first.
And in this step, I see a lot of mud-slinging from members of various cattlemen’s outfits because they don’t agree on the best route to take in this category. While I understand why these issues get so heated, as we bicker amongst ourselves, we must also keep in mind that no issue is black or white. There is a lot of gray area to consider when we talk about sustainability, the beef checkoff, labeling beef and trade.
As much as we hate to believe it, no single organization has the perfect approach to these issues, so even if we differ on what we believe in our hearts is the best route to go, I don’t think that means we should revert to name calling and character bashing on social media if someone doesn’t agree with us. After all, aren’t we all in this for the love of the land, the livestock and our freedoms to pursue happiness and protect our liberties in this country?
Third, let’s focus our efforts on fighting the folks who believe cattle production is obsolete while also connecting with consumers who have genuine questions about what we do.
On that note, while we are busy taking cheap shots at our neighbors, let’s instead focus our fight with those who want to put us out of business. Fake meat companies, Silicon Valley investors, environmental "sustainability" activists and animal rights activists, politicians, celebrities — there are a lot of folks who claim to be “more-green” than cattlemen and women. As we enter an election year, I think things are going to get even uglier on social media. Let’s all spread kindness and truth around like confetti, and skip the fake news, propaganda and bashing of our neighbors in 2020.
Because the truth of the matter is this: Ranching is green; cattle are cool; beef tastes good; and is nutritious for us, too. It’s time to make cattle trendy again, and let’s face it, if we don’t have consumer demand, there's really no need for cattle either. What our customers think matters, so let's continue to share our stories!
In closing: Call me all the names you want, but I’m going to keep straight-shooting and telling you all how I see it from the vantage point of an independent, millennial rancher. My husband, Tyler, and I are all in on the cattle business, and we, just like you, won’t go down without a fight.
Cattlemen and women do have a lot of fight in them, but to pack the most punch, let’s direct our blows to the right adversaries.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.