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Articles from 2008 In December

Two Lessons To Share For The New Year

There are some folks I know who are just naturally perceptive – my wife is one of those. She’s like a MacGyver or an Amazing Kreskin; her instincts seem to always be on the mark and she’s quick on her feet. She can take in this and that and come up with a plausible argument, great comeback, or develop a process on the spot; no fail. Me, I usually have to rattle the marble around in the can for a while before I can formulate a position.

But a new year is always a good time to take stock and rededicate ourselves to doing better. This past week, I happened to run across something that made me think; I guess you could call it an adage. It went something like this: “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

It got me to thinking about how often we all get caught up in the race for something more, something bigger and better. Meanwhile, the thing that’s most important, the most fulfilling, the most meaningful, and what should be a priority, is right there in our hands already – children, a spouse, an elderly relative or friend, a person who looks up to you.

This is a lesson I think we all viscerally know and understand, but often it’s the turn of a phrase that provides the cold slap that forces us to stop and take inventory. And the turning of a new year is always a good time to rededicate ourselves to such important pursuits.

The other day, I was dressing in the gym after working out. There was a young man near me – he looked like he was in his late 20s or early 30s – who was approached by another young man who said: “Aren’t you so and so? We were in high school together.”

After getting reacquainted, the second guy says: “You were a heck of a runner in high school; did you run in college?”

The first man responded that he had competed in college but quit early in his college career. The second guy sounded incredulous and said: “But you were so good; did you get hurt?”

With a confident tone of acceptance tinged with a bit of regret, the man shrugged and said: “No, I just developed an attitude.”

I found his honesty really refreshing. This guy had obviously had a bright athletic gift that, for one reason or another, he’d squandered. But he didn’t blame it on anyone else. He’d accepted it as part of growing up; a decision that must have seemed right at that time. I’m sure he regretted it in hindsight, but he’d forgiven himself, seemingly learned from it and moved on.

Many of us spend our lifetimes living in the past, kicking ourselves over past decisions. Truth is we all made those decisions with the tools and the experience we had going for us at the time. That is life; it’s how we learn.

Much is said about the virtue of forgiving others, but I think the same level of virtue exists in forgiving ourselves, if we use those experiences to better understand ourselves and dedicate ourselves to doing better.

Best of luck for a great 2009.

BEEF Editors Name Top 10 Stories Of 2008

Here are what BEEF editors rank (in no particular order) as the top 10 stories of 2008:

  1. Brazil’s JBS SA follows up its 2007 purchase of Swift and Company with the announcement it will acquire National Beef Packing, the Smithfield Beef Group and Five Rivers Ranch Cattle Feeding. But the U.S. Department of Justice sues to block JBS SA's acquisition of National Beef. See these related stories:
    “DOJ Wants Four Packers,”
    “Swift & Company Goes Brazilian,”
    “Study Addresses Implications Of JBS-Swift Acquisitions,”
    “Justice Says "No" To Merger Of JBS And National,”
    “It's back to the future for JBS,”
    “Batistas Make Growing Plans,”
    “JBS Becomes Industry's Dominant Player,”

  2. Commodities soar and the economy nosedives. See these related stories:
    “Credit Crunch,”
    “Economy’s Effect On Ranchers,”
    “Cow-Calf Lessons,”
    “Feedyards Left With Markets,”
    “Stocker Lending Available,”
    “Is It Time To Point Fingers?”

  3. A little known U.S. Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, downs Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president and bests Rep. John McCain for the White House. Meanwhile, Democrats add to their majorities in the House and Senate. See these related stories:
    “Packer Ban Among Obama’s Ag Priorities,”
    “Confusion, But Optimism, Over Obama Appointments,”

  4. Large retail chains in South Korea open to U.S. beef. See these related stories:
    “Major Korean Retailers To Resume U.S. Beef Sales”
    “Korean Women’s Magazines Feature U.S. Beef”

  5. After a long wait and lots of wrangling, mandatory country of origin labeling finally becomes law in the U.S. See these related stories:
    “Will Mandatory COOL Hurt Ground Beef Sales?”
    “COOL Cometh & Plenty Of Questions Linger,”
    “Canada Begins Its Attack Against Mandatory COOL”

  6. The end of the free-trade era. The hallmark of the past two presidential administrations has been the formulation of free-trade agreements, but a mood of protectionism grows. See these related stories:
    “NAFTA 10 Years After,”
    “Democrats Look To Pull A Fast One On Trade Rules,”
    “Making The Case For Free Trade,”
    “Let’s Really Look At Free Trade,”

  7. Hallmark incident. Undercover Humane Society of the U.S. workers surreptitiously film workers at a Chino, CA cull-cow slaughter plant abusing exhausted dairy cows. See these related stories:
    “ Hallmark Gives Industry A California Nightmare,”
    “This Hallmark Greeting Is A Real Tear Jerker,”

  8. Horse slaughter ban. Legislators and courts bow to a tidal wave of emotion over horse slaughter, banning the practice in the U.S. See these related stories:
    “The Horse Ban & The Law Of Unintended Consequences,”
    “Slippery Slope?”
    “U.S. Horse Slaughter Moves To Mexico,”
    “Wild Horses Are A Case Study For All We Face,”
    “Wrangling Over Rendering,”

  9. Curly Calf (Arthrogryposis Multiplex), a lethal genetic defect, rattles the purebred market. See these related stories:
    “Dealing With Curly Calf,”
    “Curly Calf Syndrome Update,”

  10. Proposition 2 passes in California. The state ballot initiative stipulating housing requirements for all farm animals passes California voters by a 2 to 1 margin. See these related stories:
    “Election Of Obama May Not Be Most Pertinent Result,”
    “Ranchers Care,”
    “California Voters Approve Proposition 2.”

Keep The Economic Downturn In Perspective

Tom Field, executive director of producer education with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, recognizes it’s been a tumultuous ride these past few months. But the beef industry isn’t down for the count.

He begins by pointing out free markets aren’t immune from “purging” themselves. But what is amiss is media and politicians continuing to compare the current economic environment to the Great Depression. There are concerns certainly, but there are also safeguards in place. Field reminds producers to keep it all in perspective.

“When a market shifts like this, the market tends to look for things with tangible value as preferred assets,” Field says. “We still provide basic goods and services, and those things are going to be valued.”

It also helps that at the beginning of this economic downturn, the international economy was healthier and stronger than ever before. Imagine the boom for beef demand when the economy strengthens globally.

“Even with this economic downturn tapping the brakes on overall demand, the reality is the long-term outlook for beef demand is very, very good,” Field says.

Two pieces of good news every cattle producer can grasp is normalized input costs and credit availability. “When we spoke last, I would not have imagined I could fill up my vehicle for $1.69/gal.,” Field muses. In late ’08, corn was trading far below summer levels. Local and regional banks are also faring better than larger lenders.

“I don’t see any one decision that will make everything right,” Field says. “Producers will have to take an individual look at their own situation.” For some, that might entail keeping a herd bull for an extra season; to others, it will mean maintaining equipment to avoid repair and replacement.

“However, if we get caught in the game of saying we’re going to reduce our preventive health care or not do a good job at weaning, the costs of those decisions will come back to haunt us as individual producers,” Field says.

Don’t stray from core principles. Businesses that have survived tough economic times have similar key characteristics, Field says. First, they never stray from the core principle of cost-control, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the lowest-cost producer.

Second, long-term sustainable businesses create value for their product. “It’s a combination of staying focused on the prize, which is partly managing costs, partly creating value and partly looking for unique marketing opportunities,” Field says.

Producers need to look for every dime that can be extracted on cull cows; every opportunity possible for lightweight calves, heiferettes or buying inputs; and economies of scale by working with others in communities, counties and regions.

The silver lining Field reiterates lies in the product we produce. “Beef has loyalty with consumers, and we’ve got enough versatility to hold our own with a variety of consumer demographics in these economic times.”

Key in all of this will be working together with colleagues inside and outside of the industry. There are issues that must be fought together. “I have a lot of faith in what we can do as an industry when we link arms, clarify our vision and communicate that vision to the American people,” Field says.

He emphasizes there’s never been a more important time in history to be active in local, state and national cattle organizations. It will be imperative to push the new administration for trade access, avoid excessive regulation and effectively communicate the positive message about American beef producers and their families to policy makers and consumers.

This is also the time to honor our elders and seek their counsel, Field suggests. “They can give us the perspective, courage and hope that this too shall pass; if we work hard and keep the faith, we’ll come out stronger and better on the other side.”

To Guide Your Business Climate, Get Involved Locally

The elections are over; the table is set; the players are now known. But while the priorities of the nation's leaders can make the economy rise and fall, day in and day out, your profits are more likely affected by laws and regulations passed closer to home.

“Issues at the city and state level are often more important to business owners than issues at the federal level,” notes Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, New York City.

Here's some good news: You can get the local mechanism running in a way that grows your profits.

All politics is local. Decisions made by your local politicians can have a dramatic impact on your business profits. How can you affect those decisions?

“Start by learning how your local government operates,” suggests Al Arnold, director of the Academy of Local Politics, Rice Lake, WI. “Politics is a game. In order to be successful in any game, you need to know the rules.”

He advises attending one local government meeting each year to “watch, listen and learn by observation” how local government works. “One meeting won't make anyone an expert, but over the years you will become more knowledgeable about your local officials and how they work.”

Learn how your town develops its annual budget — the pivotal document for taking action. “A city budget isn't just a financial document,” Arnold explains. “It's a policy document.” Where tax money is being spent, or not spent, gives a clear indication about your city council's priorities.

All politics are personal. Personal networking is a powerful tool for influencing local laws. “All politics are personal,” says Nancy Bocskor, a political consultant in Arlington, VA. “Even in our modern world of e-mail, getting things done still comes down to whom you have a relationship with.”

In developing relationships, make the telephone your friend. “Call your local politicians at the city and state level and meet with them,” Ploeger suggests. “These politicians are looking for ways to help constituents. They don't know how to do that if you don't speak up.” If you remain hidden, your politicians may well vote in ways that unintentionally harm your business.

Don't wait until you have concerns before meeting with your local representatives, Ploeger adds. “Your politicians will often have issues they are grappling with and they need to talk with business people about the effects of certain regulations.”

Developing a relationship can mean more than phone calls and meetings. Consider hosting a fundraising event. “Help a politician raise money by having a coffee in your home,” Bocskor suggests. “Offer to invite your friends, neighbors and colleagues over to listen to the candidate.”

For more tips about getting the job done, see the section, “How to talk with a local politician,” at the end of this article.

Stay informed. New local issues come up all the time. Many of them can affect your business operations. Don't rely on the local newspaper to learn about them.

“Newspapers normally report on what has happened, not what might happen,” Arnold says. “And if they do report on what might happen, it might not be what you're interested in. There's only one way to keep on top of proposed local government issues, and that's by following committee agendas.”

Learn which committees are likely to deal with business issues. “Find out where agendas for committee meetings are posted,” Arnold suggests. “Many times they're on the town website. Make a point of following these agendas on a regular (monthly if not weekly) basis. This is the only way to catch issues before votes are taken.”

Offer your input as early as possible. Will proposed legislation or regulation have unanticipated consequences? Call and let your politicians know.

“Issues are like rolling snowballs,” Arnold says. “They get bigger and bigger with time. It's easier to destroy a hand-sized snowball.”

The power of numbers. On the state level, the best way to follow issues is to belong to an organization that does this for you.

“If your business has a statewide association, pay the dues and belong to it,” Arnold suggests. “If there's no such association, join an independent business group of some kind to get your information. And when your association asks you to respond to a ‘call to action’ on an important issue, do so.”

Running a business leaves you only so much time to communicate with your politicians. So leverage your relationships with organizations that can help communicate your message.

“Your local chamber of commerce will often talk with political leaders,” Ploeger notes. Many chambers have legislative directors or advocacy managers. Usually the presidents of the chamber are involved with that aspect.”

Attend or volunteer to serve on the chamber committee that is responsible for developing positions on local political issues.

Get involved. Effective lobbying is a process, not a destination. Don't expect your representatives to agree with you all the time. But over time, if you participate in small ways by attending meetings and voicing your opinions, you can have an influential voice when a really big issue arises.

“You have to be a citizen activist,” Bocskor says. “When you're not involved, it's amazing how fast laws are passed that have unintended consequences.”

Don't let that happen. Reach out to your local politicians and you'll end up with a more productive business environment.

“I get so angry when people say they're too busy,” Arnold says. “You can't be too busy to not follow what government is doing to regulate your business.”

How to talk with a local politician. “Meeting with an official once or twice a year should be part of every management plan,” says Sean W. Hadley, a Princeton, NJ attorney and lobbyist. Like any other networking event, a meeting with a politician can pay many dividends to your business.

You can approach local politicians with words such as these: “I have a business in your district. I want to come in and introduce myself and talk with you.”

Here are some tips for being effective:

  • Speak up. Be professional and voice your opinion as soon as you find out about an issue.

  • Be nice. “Local elected officials appreciate timely, courteous input on issues,” Hadley says. “However, all too often, the input is neither timely nor courteous.”

  • Show thanks. If your representative makes a vote you agree with on an issue, send a letter or e-mail, or call to express your appreciation. “It's so very seldom that they receive one of those. It will be remembered.”

  • Stay in problem-solving mode. “Know exactly what you are asking for,” Hadley suggests. “Have a solution ready.”

  • Invite officials to visit. Ask your local officials to tour your facility, meet your employees and have a group picture taken. “Especially if you have a significant number of employees, politicians are happy to appear at an event like that,” Hadley says.

  • Donate. In politics, money talks, Hadley says. “It doesn't buy you results, but it can help facilitate a relationship.”

    If a politician approaches you about attending a fundraiser on his behalf, it's well worth it on a reasonable basis. Later, when you have an issue, you have a “go-to” politician you can call for assistance.

  • Be courteous. “Politicians don't like to be ambushed or surprised,” Hadley warns. “So be courteous at all times.”

    Tell your politician if you're going to say something negative publicly. “Make sure he or she is in the loop,” Hadley says. “Politicians have long memories.”

  • Be cordial. Don't make threats such as “I won't vote for you if you won't do this.” Don't say, “I pay your salary.” Confrontations of this nature backfire, Hadley notes.

  • Start early and be patient. Most important, speak up. “If you don't call your officials, your voice won't be heard and you run the risk of laws imposed on you without your knowing,” Hadley says. “It's easier to stop the train from leaving the station than it is when it's racing down the tracks. So tell your politicians, ‘Keep this train in the station!’
-- Phillip M. Perry

Happy New Year From BEEF Daily!

Another year has come and gone, and with it, a lot has changed in the world for beef producers in the United States. We have seen the passing of Proposition 2, elected a new president, established Country-of-Origin-Labeling, listened to Oprah's and animal rights activists' continued attacks on agriculture, watched as more young people leave the ranch for better jobs in the cities, paid for the highest fuel, feed and fertilizer prices in history, attended farm auctions of neighbors going out of business, passed a bailout plan and listened to economists explain the downward spiral of the nation's economy.

It's no wonder that cattlemen aren't exactly optimistic about the state of the industry. 2008 has certainly been an extremely challenging year. However, despite the many obstacles of 2008, cattlemen can look forward to a fresh start in 2009. For those that have weathered the storm of the past year, the rewards will be huge dividends in the years to come.

So, I wish you the best of luck in 2009. I truly believe the economy will turn around, and things will greatly improve for cattlemen. Tomorrow, I'm going to take the day off to celebrate the past year and set new goals for 2009. I hope you are able to take part in some festivities, as well. Get ready to join me in the New Year for news updates and blogs at BEEF Daily!

Happy New Year! 2009, here we come!

Major Korean Retailers To Resume U.S. Beef Sales

South Korea's three major discount retailers – E-Mart, Home Plus and Lotte Mart – say they will resume sales of U.S. beef on Thanksgiving Day in Seoul, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reports. The E-Mart, Home Plus and Lotte Mart chains consist of 119, 113 and 63 stores, respectively.

The retail chains issued a joint press release on Tuesday announcing the decision and explained the move is due in part to the slow economy and daily financial difficulties facing Koreans. The companies said their sales of U.S. beef will provide value and convenience, as well as help stabilize consumer prices, and added there is no longer any reason for them not to carry price-competitive U.S. beef.

USMEF is providing promotional support to all the chains and believes initial sales at these major retailers will prompt sales at other outlets.

Phil Seng, USMEF president and CEO, says U.S. beef export numbers have been strong since U.S. beef shipments commenced to South Korea in late July, but sales in Korea have been limited to small outlets due to reluctance by major retailers and foodservice operations to sell U.S. beef because of lingering consumer anxiety and weak economic conditions.

USMEF has been actively promoting U.S. beef sales with Korean butcher shops and neighborhood restaurants since early September, but participation by large retailers is critical to jump-starting larger volume sales across all market sectors, he says. The timing of this week's large retailer re-launch is expected to lead other retail and restaurant chains to feature U.S. beef before the lunar New Year peak consumption period in late January.

Seoul-based USMEF Director Jihae Yang points that “the current economic crunch, together with the fact that the Korean won has depreciated almost 50% since the market reopened this past summer, will make price the key factor in terms of how U.S. beef is received."
-- USMEF news release

Korean Women’s Magazines Feature U.S. Beef

Two prominent South Korean women’s magazines are featuring U.S. beef in their December issues, signaling a possible change in the public attitude toward U.S. beef in this key export market.

Woman Chosun and Woman Sense each produced lengthy and very positive articles in their current issues that are targeted to a key audience – the housewives who purchase groceries for family meals. One editor already has reported that the articles have been positively received.

The timing of the articles is fortuitous, coinciding with the return of U.S. beef to the “big box” retailers that serve Korean consumers.

U.S. Meat Export Federation staff in Seoul have been engaged in an ongoing education campaign to help South Korean reporters better understand the science behind food safety and the comprehensive food safety protocols utilized by the U.S. beef industry. This has laid the foundation with editors for their decision to again feature stories about U.S. beef in their publications.

U.S. beef exports to South Korea have rebounded in recent months. Korean media reported earlier this week that since sales resumed a week ago at the “big box” discount stores:

  • Lotte Mart had sold a total of 79 metric tons (174,163 lbs.) of U.S. beef. During the same period, 29.5 tons (65,035 lbs.) of Australian beef had been sold.

  • Home Plus stores sold 119.9 tons (264,331 lbs.) of U.S. beef for the week, 10% more than Australian beef.

  • And at E-Mart, Australian beef was discounted and narrowly outsold U.S. beef. A total of 175 tons (385,805 lbs.) of U.S. beef was sold at E-Mart for the week compared with 180 tons (396,828 lbs.) of Australian beef.
-- USMEF release

Canada Begins Its Attack Against Mandatory COOL

It isn't officially in place for a few more months, and unless you have been wrestling with implementation issues on the packing, distributing, or retail side, mandatory country of origin labeling (mCOOL) is still something that is just off there in the future somewhere. Its arrival has had very little impact domestically thus far.

Canada, however, is advancing the idea that the U.S. measure is costing its industry $1 million/day, and intends to challenge the law in the World Trade Organization and NAFTA. Of course, the $1 million/day figure is more for public relations purposes than anything else. Any challenge of mCOOL will likely take a very long time, and the resolution process rarely resolves anything anyway.

In the end, mCOOL will be allowed to stand, or the U.S. will end up paying renumerations back to the Canadian government for keeping it in place. Then, we’ll begin the process of tweaking. In the end, it could transpire much like the European Union’s ban on growth promotants; we keep complaining, they keep paying the punishment levies, and the process drags on and on.

In this case, the U.S. can use the conflict process to its advantage, but it does illustrate one reason that so many people have grown frustrated with so many of these trade agreements. If they aren’t enforceable, then what does it mean if they’re fair?

We’ve been experiencing similar things with Europe for decades, and the reopening of our borders following BSE was a much more difficult process than it ever should have been.

Cold snap brutal

The region can't seem to shake the cold snap that it is in. Whichever coffee shop, large or small, the topic of the day is the frigid weather.

In North Dakota, Roger Effertz of Effertz Key Ranch at Velva, says he is more than a little tired of the winter weather. Having gotten their first big snow of 15" the first weekend in November, Old Man Winter hasn't let up on the area, sending down subzero temperatures and wind.

"Everything's colder when you have snow on the ground, the cattle have to use more energy to stay warm," says Effertz. "We are well below our normal winter temperature of 25 degrees. I think we have been lulled to sleep by all the talk of this "Global Warming". It's snowing in Las Vegas. You can't tell me there is anyone left there who is still talking about Global Warming."

Currently Effertz Key Ranch is feeding approximately a 1,000 head of cattle at the area where they normally calve, having decided to bring them in to be close to feed.

At 45 calendar days from calving, Effertz is watching his younger cows with a close eye. "We may have kept them out [on pasture] too long," says Effertz. "A few of the younger cows look thinner than we would like going into calving season. We are looking at possibly adding corn to their ration to help get them back into shape, but it might be too late."

The Velva area, according to Effertz, didn't see any significant amount of moisture during the summer months. July and August rain was nonexistent.

That led to many ranchers in the area grazing longer than they necessarily wanted to on certain pastures and beginning to look for other feed sources.

A mixture of shorter pastures and winter weather, led Effertz Key Ranch to begin feeding straw hay and silage on Nov. 10, at least 15 days ahead of the ranch's normal winter-feeding schedule.

"We thought we were doing alright," says Effertz of the feed supply on hand. "Now, with these subzero temperatures I can't even calculate how fast we are going through feed. We just know that we might not make it through the winter now on our supply and are looking at possibly buying in feed."

There are two other big questions for the Effertz Key Ranch - are they going to be able to get enough feed energy into their younger cows to have them produce a strong calf in February and secondly, are they are going to be able to turn out on grass come May 1.

Effertz doubts that they will be able to turn out the cattle that soon because of the lack of grass last year and estimates an additional 50 days to calculate into his winter feeding costs.

"At a minimum of a dollar a day, that is $50 more per head that we may have to pay," says Effertz.

Even with things darn cold and looking a little costly, Effertz says he is glad to see the area finally getting some moisture. "Hopefully this weather will help fill up a few stock dams and bring back the pastures."