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Fear and loathing in the cattle industry

Troy Marshall

October 6, 2016

4 Min Read
Fear and loathing in the cattle industry

Fear is one of the least healthy emotions. It downgrades performance, it lowers decision-making skills and at its worst, it has a paralyzing effect that prevents people from taking positive action.

Sound familiar? That’s a good description of our daily trip through the cattle markets. Unfortunately, even the toughest of cowboys have succumbed to it. You know it is bad when packers seem surprised that they have been able to buy cattle so cheaply, it is a stampede to the exits and everyone is scared of getting run over in the process.

The fear our current market situation has generated is understandable; after all, the market hasn’t made much sense for a while now and the trend has been clear. As one gentleman said, it is simply a disaster and since we aren’t sure how we got here, we have no idea how we will leave.

I’m no different than the average cattleman dealing with this illogical market. I went through the typical stages – denial, grief, fear and hopefully getting to the point of proactively responding. 

But there is another fear being stirred up again as well. This is the fear that serves activists with an agenda. They use these downturns to trot out the old “sky is falling” rhetoric that blames those they oppose for everything. It is like the Democrats trotting out their lines of racism, sexism and class warfare, or the Republicans talking about the spending and taxing as it relates to the Democrats.

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Sure, you could argue that there was a grain of truth in these arguments for them to work so well, at least at some point in the past, but in actuality it is all about labels and creating an “us against them” mentality.

Until about 20 years ago, the beef industry avoided the politics of division. We knew we were too small and too outnumbered to waste time attacking each other. We argued, we debated, we voted and then we rode for the brand.

Sadly, those days are gone. The activist groups within our industry have to stay alive and relevant and their very existence is based on challenging the largest member-driven institutions in our industry. So with the market collapse, we have seen the re-emergence of those who seek to divide.

Their story is the same as always; the other side is corrupt, beholding to someone else than its membership, and their aim is to stoke the flames of discontent in order to raise money, and regain relevance.

Understanding is the cure for fear, so when you hear the negative calls about NCBA, the checkoff, about the mainstream cow-calf, feeding, packing and retailing segments, it is better to not blindly believe the outlandish rhetoric but to go and see for yourself.


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I certainly have my share of disagreements with NCBA, and I fully understand that a small percentage of the time my perspective does not align with the feeding and packing industries. However, every time I attend a convention, tour a packing plant or make feedlot visits, I come away with a deep appreciation not only for the people involved but the job they do and the way they go about it. 

So the next time you are told there is a terrible monster behind the closet door or under the bed, it probably makes sense to open the door and take a look around, or take a peek under the covers. What we usually find is that the greatest threat was fear itself.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Penton Agriculture Group.


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