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Industry's Innovators

When conversations turn to the accomplishments of the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF), the common denominator cited for its success is the organization's ability to bring people together from the industry for a common cause. Larry Corah, who spent 25 years as a Kansas State University Extension beef specialist and researcher and is now with Certified Angus Beef, says, The biggest thing BIF has accomplished

When conversations turn to the accomplishments of the Beef Improvement

Federation (BIF), the common denominator cited for its success is the organization's ability to bring people together from the industry for a common cause.

Larry Corah, who spent 25 years as a Kansas State University Extension beef specialist and researcher and is now with Certified Angus Beef, says, “The biggest thing BIF has accomplished is the pulling together of like-minded people, whether they were industry representatives, scientists or producers, who wanted to utilize genetic information and knew we could make genetic progress.”

Similarly, Ike Eller, a Virginian who served as BIF executive secretary from 1983 to 1985, believes the most important thing BIF has done is bring beef groups together.

“It's been an organ of communication between breeds, state producer groups, and the Extension specialists and researchers at land-grant universities,” he says.

Eller and Corah emphasize that what made BIF unique and different from other industry meetings was its focus on genetic improvement for beef-cattle production. “BIF was the only place that happened, and I think that was some of the magic in it,” Eller says.

Two important founders

The vision of bringing standardized performance programs and genetic improvement to the beef industry — the impetus for BIF's beginnings — is credited to a lawyer and Horned Hereford breeder named Ferry Carpenter from Hayden, CO.

Carpenter, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, was nationally known for his legal expertise in water rights issues. He was equally passionate about cattle — particularly performance measures. Carpenter was an active participant in the Performance Registry International, the Colorado Beef Cattle Improvement Association (BCIA) and the Total Performance Records program of the American Hereford Association.

It was he who initiated the first gathering of breeders, Extension beef specialists, researchers and industry on Jan. 14, 1967, at the National Western Stock Show. The meeting was entitled “International Conference of Beef Cattle Performance Testing Associations.”

Carpenter was seeking input from various state BCIAs and other performance organizations with the goal of establishing a new overall national performance organization. Although nothing was formalized at that first meeting, an important seed was planted.

Along with Carpenter, the other man remembered for making BIF become a reality was Frank Baker, who was the federal Extension livestock specialist in 1967. Baker attended that first gathering, and many recall he had a key role in facilitating what was sometimes a heated debate.

Afterwards, Baker held a follow-up meeting with a smaller group that met again in Denver. It was then that BIF was organized with the goal to standardize performance procedures for the beef industry. The actual organizational meeting of BIF took place in Denver in January 1968. Baker served as BIF executive director from 1968 to 1974.

A three-way partnership

Since the beginning, BIF's three-leaf clover logo has represented the entities involved — industry, Extension and research. Likewise, the board of directors that was established continues to have equal representation from each of those three sectors.

Of this, Iowa cattleman Dave Nichols, who has been involved with BIF since that first meeting in 1967, says: “I believe one of the reasons for BIF's great success is that three-way partnership that allows everybody's voice to be heard and acted on.”

That's not to say the past 40 years haven't been without controversy among the organizations involved in BIF. For instance, in the early years, breed associations were among those who resisted performance testing. Nichols recalls, “Many breed organizations felt performance testing was just another tool for breeders who weren't capable enough to judge cattle visually.”

Roy Wallace of Select Sires adds, “There have been some rough roads. At times, I didn't know if it [BIF] would survive… We had to start from base zero in getting standardized performance measurements, and there was a lot of opposition. One part of the country would collect measurements one way, and they wanted to keep it that way.”

Wallace credits Eller with helping get BIF back on track when he served as executive director of the organization in the early '80s. “He started putting out a newsletter and got the communication going again,” Wallace says.

Today, BIF has grown to represent more than 40 state and national beef cattle associations — and it's truly a collaborative effort.

Willie Altenburg, who currently serves on the BIF board representing the artificial insemination industry, says, “I'm often in awe of the many motivated, driven people who sit on the BIF board and how they have the ability to check their own agendas at the door and serve the beef industry in such an unselfish manner.”

Likewise, Ron Bolze, who served as BIF's executive director from 1993-1998 and is now with the Red Angus Association of America, says, “BIF is all about the people, but it's not about individuals. It's an organization of organizations.”

When asked who are the movers and shakers shaping BIF now and in the future, current BIF executive director Twig Marston at Kansas State University says, “The list is long, with a great blend of old and new participants.”

Colorado State University's Tom Field adds, “…I believe the force that moves BIF in a positive direction is the synergy provided by the interactions between scientists, producers and association staff.”

To that end, John Pollak, Cornell University genetics professor and researcher, says, “When I think historically where BIF has been and where it's going, it is still the meeting of the year for those interested in beef cattle selection and genetics and the application of technology to those processes.”

Pollak recalls that when BIF first began, some of its appeal was the small size of the group that allowed for discussion among scientists, producers and industry. As the size of the organization and attendance at its meetings has grown to often more than 500 — and likely will continue to expand — some lament the loss of those interaction opportunities.

But Pollak says, “I hope people ignore the size and continue to be as interactive as they've been in the past. There are just more of us to share.”

The stated purposes of BIF include:

  • Uniformity: Work for accurate and uniform procedures for measuring, recording and assessing data concerning the performance of beef cattle.

  • Development: Assist member organizations in developing performance programs.

  • Cooperation: Develop cooperation in compilation and use of performance records among all segments of the beef industry to improve efficiency, profitability and sustainability of beef production.

  • Education: Encourage development of educational programs emphasizing the use and interpretation of performance data and quality-management programs.

  • Confidence: Increase confidence throughout the industry in the economic potential available from performance measurement and assessment.

Focused on education

While the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) has been instrumental in developing performance-measurement guidelines for the beef industry, another key organization role is helping educate beef producers so that the very technologies and research BIF promotes are being practically applied.

Virginia's Ike Eller explains that the annual BIF meeting is an important means of helping with that education process.

“This allows producers, Extension specialists and researchers to share cutting-edge ideas and then carry them back to their states to be incorporated into beef herds,” he says.

Additionally, BIF's annual award recognition program has been an important component in recognizing those individuals who have been leaders in helping the industry advance genetic improvement. Each year, a seedstock and commercial producer are selected for BIF's coveted award. Individuals are also selected from across the beef industry to receive BIF's Pioneer, Ambassador and Continuing Service awards.

Of BIF's award program, Kansas State University's Twig Marston says, “It gives the beef industry an opportunity to recognize those individuals, companies and ranches that have dedicated themselves to scientific-based beef production.”