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Can An Industry Be Managed By Consensus?

cattle industry structure and leadership must be addressed

I don’t want to imply that building consensus isn’t a crucial factor in successfully moving the U.S. beef industry forward. After all, in order to be successful, the majority of the industry must rally around a common vision, agree to a plan, and commit itself to executing that plan. That’s easier said than done, as it requires great communication and leadership to reach consensus.

However, the hard work has mostly been done. The economics and the trend lines of our industry are well known, and the consumer and production research we’ve done provides us with sufficient direction on the proper course and goals. In fact, I believe industry consensus wouldn’t be that hard to achieve if the facts were displayed and openly discussed.

Certainly, there are those who won’t agree with moving forward aggressively, or with the direction the majority chooses. But leadership can no longer be overly concerned with people who refuse to get on the train.

The research clearly shows the industry must create a higher-quality, more consistent product that does a better job of meeting a myriad of specific targets and niches. For instance, we understand the changes that are coming as a result of the evolving ethnic makeup of our country. We know we must do a better job of fitting into the diets and preferences of the Hispanic and Asian populations, for example.

We also have a growing elderly population, and a younger generation with a preference for protein sources other than beef. Then there is our industry’s lack of product development, and a need for more innovative preparation methods.

We know the failings of our marketing system, and the inherent flaws with a commodity production and pricing system that was never designed to meet the needs of a demanding consumer. And the list on the production side may be as great.

We can make the genetics, we can create the management systems, and we can address the packaging, marketing and logistic issues. What we need is the clarity of vision and leadership that will encourage us to act as an industry in the same manner that we do as individual operations, and with the same level of commitment and passion. Individual operations may have total faith in their direction and future, but that type of clarity is lacking at the industry level.

Committee structures may be a necessary evil, but our industry is far more comfortable with point people and collaboration. First off, I salute the work that all the committees do, but the best way to slow progress and lose a sense of urgency on a subject is to create a committee to address the issue.

Our industry organizations realize that to really create momentum on a subject, you create a task force staffed with a few committed and passionate individuals. Or you appoint a great committee leader who ends up finding a few dedicated coconspirators who run the committee like it’s their own personal change creator.

Passion and commitment have never been a problem in this industry, but a sense of urgency is often missing. And rarely have all the various committees and leaders been working toward large and unifying goals.

For example, the committees dealing with marketing and beef improvement may be doing great work in their respective areas, but rarely work together. In fact, the beef improvement committee tends to get a little sensitive when genetics comes up in the marketing committee or vice versa. Not to mention the absurdity of our current system that insists that beef demand and issues management are separate issues.

The industry’s challenge is to continue to do all the work on the myriad of specific issues it faces. On any given day, my own state cattlemen’s organization is working on regulatory issues, as well as legislation on everything from taxation, endangered species, and transportation, to animal welfare. Those all require specific expertise, but they also must be part of a larger integrated strategic plan. We need to maintain our specialization expertise, while integrating all of these issues under a coordinated industry umbrella.

But our industry also desperately needs the leadership to accomplish this. First off, I must say that I’ve always been amazed at the quality of leadership in our industry, as well as their willingness to serve. In fact, I’ve never attended an industry meeting at any level, where I wasn’t humbled by members’ willingness to sacrifice their time in service to the organization.


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And it usually doesn’t stop with great volunteer leadership, as the hired staffs of these organizations tend to be just as dedicated as the volunteers. The proof is that, almost without exception, these staff people could make significantly more doing similar work outside of our industry.

I don’t contend that we have a void in leadership, but our leaders haven’t conveyed the magnitude of the challenges and opportunities we face as an industry. We need more people actively engaged, and we need a much higher degree of urgency.

Like individual producers, the industry overall tends to focus on day-to-day urgent issues, and insufficient time is spent on the very important long-term issues. As the industry has limited resources, it’s understandable that much of its attention is focused on issues of the day. But if we don’t rectify the ship and actually reverse the trend lines in demand, we will continue to see the industry shrink.


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