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Of beef industry unity and American strength

First it was rocky markets, then COVID-19, then racial riots. Will the sun keep rising on America?

By now, the June issue of BEEF magazine should have hit your mailbox and with it, a look at the topline results from our annual State of the Industry survey. We’ll have more in the July issue, but for now, let’s look a little deeper into what the results have to say.

It’s no surprise that the overall psychology in the beef business is a bit down this year. In fact, I think it’s testament to the perseverance and generally positive outlook that beef producers have that it didn’t drop further.

We conducted the survey in late April and early May, just as the coronavirus was fundamentally affecting life in America. The amount of uncertainty swirling around the beef business was reaching tsunami levels. Beef producers were questioning market dynamics and the tension and angst in the country was palpable.

To that end, I found the responses interesting to the question, “Compared to last year, do you think that the level of unity, or spirit of cooperation, within the U.S. beef cattle industry has?” As the graph shows, a significant number of BEEF readers think we’re having a harder time getting along with each other than last year.

Shelly JarkaLevel of unity

That’s a change from 2019, particularly in those who think we’re worse off. Last year, 52% of respondents said it remained the same; 18% thought it improved; 18% thought it decreased; and 12% didn’t know.

In my 40-plus years as a part of the beef business, I’ve seen the mindset and outlook of beef producers wax and wane many, many times as cattle prices ebb and flow. I strongly suspect that’s fundamentally what’s at work now, with a hefty push from the havoc that COVID-19 has and will continue to have.

We’ll get through this. I don’t know how long it will take, but things will get better. It’s like a good friend, a dryland wheat farmer and stocker operator, told me once: “Some years you dust in a crop and pray for rain.” We’re “dusting in the crop” and praying that it will rain. And it will.

Another question in the survey with telling answers was this: “Is the U.S. headed in the right direction?” As the graph shows, readers were evenly split three ways. That’s a change from last year as well, when 48% said yes; 25% said no; and 28% didn’t know.

Shelly JarkaIs the U.S. headed in the right direction?

This question came months before the riots and racial unrest that rocked the country the past few weeks. I think we’ll come out on the other side of this as a better, stronger, more perfect union. At least I hope so. But I suspect that you, like me, had strong and definite thoughts on the riots, the burning, the pillaging. Peaceful protests are one thing; willful violence and destruction are something else altogether. If anything, all that did was make matters worse.

I wondered what the response to that question would be if we asked it now, in the aftermath of the burning buildings we saw on the news. I suspect the numbers would be different.

In spite of all that, my bets are on America. The July 4 holiday approaches. Now is a good time to reflect on the many blessings we have as Americans and on those who risked and gave their lives to form a more perfect union, as the preamble to the Constitution promises.

While it’s far from perfect, it’s better than anything else that’s come along. Some are questioning that now, as some always have. But America and Americans are stronger than any challenge that has been thrown down, and always will be. As Lee Greenfield’s song I’m Proud to be an American says, “I thank my lucky stars to be living here today. 'Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away.”

As long as we remember what it takes to keep that ragged ‘ol flag flying, they never will.

 

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