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Articles from 2006 In June


Peru Slights Chavez As It Ratifies U.S. Trade Deal

Peru moved quickly this week on its free-trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S., as Peru's Congress overwhelmingly ratified it and its president quickly signed it into law. Up next is approval by the U.S. Congress.

Reuters cited the Peruvian approval of the FTA as a blow for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his leftist allies, Cuba and Bolivia, which want Latin America to turn away from the U.S. and join an alternative regional pact. In Peru's June presidential election, Chavez supported a nationalist who pledged not to sign the FTA. Chavez says he intends to cut ties with Peru when President-elect Alan Garcia takes office July 28.

The ratification vote wasn't without drama, as thousands, shouting "Down with the U.S.," protested outside; and newly elected opposition lawmakers, who will take their seats in Peru's next Congress on July 28, burst into the official meeting and interrupted debate for half an hour.
-- Joe Roybal

It's Time To Get Maniacal

If you've attended a cattlemen's meeting in the last couple of years, it's likely you've heard a presentation or two on alliances. You also likely sat through a speaker or two who talked about the changes occurring in our marketplace and the phenomenal growth of alliances.

My own non-scientific study says you probably nodded and agreed with the general theme of the talk but still aren't technically aligned with anyone or marketing your cattle in any formal alliance. This was probably a prudent decision, as many alliances have come and gone. And, while a few alliances have been hugely successful, the truth is the alliance movement, or revolution, largely is still a theoretical one.

That said, I'd argue it's time to become an alliance maniac. I'm not necessarily talking about those who contractually align producers, though that might be a viable option. I'm saying we have to have a positive attitude toward alliances and actively seek them.

So much is happening these days, it's nigh to impossible to stay current on everything. Plus, in modern cattle production, a rancher's management team is relatively small. Thus, to assume the best ideas, the best information, etc., will come from within is extremely dangerous.

We should be maniacal in our desire to find and work with the cutting-edge operations throughout the supply chain, either directly partnering with them or sharing information. Whether it a nutritionist, your pharmaceutical salesman, the best feedyards, packers or retailers in the business, there is someone -- and likely more than one -- with whom a relationship would be of benefit to you.

We should also be committed to becoming technology maniacs. It's easy to forget how big an impact technology has had on this industry, but try to imagine raising cattle without a cell phone, computers, EPDs, or any of the other technologies we use every day.

The list of technologies the futurists are predicting is mind-boggling -- we may have DNA tests for disease resistance and tenderness in the future. We'll likely have a whole new set of information and tools to do our job better. Of course, the early adopters will be the one who reap the rewards; the late adaptors will pay the price.
-- Troy Marshall

eMerge Unveils New Cattle Marketing Programs

eMerge Interactive recently announced release of CattleLog Verification Services, a comprehensive program designed for cattle producers to verify their production claims and qualify animals for such value-added and branded programs as natural, non-hormone, and export marketing programs.

"This new program presents a significant opportunity to all beef industry participants," says Bill Mies, eMerge vice president of national accounts. "We have expanded the list of auditable programs from two to eight, allowing producers to qualify cattle age/source as well as natural programs."

eMerge has also created a CattleLog Listing Service for producers to publicize the availability of verified cattle to the entire beef industry. This program offers buyers reduced procurement costs, assurance of verification claims, and visibility into qualified supplies. For sellers, it offers on-site verification, USDA-approved age/source verification, and official approval documentation.

"We feel this new opportunity brings together the right ingredients -- industry-leading data verification and marketing assistance -- to create value for producers and allow sellers to locate cattle with specific characteristics," Mies says.

For more info, visit verification.cattlelog.com/ or www.emergeinteractive.com/eii/jsp/cattlelisting/.
-- Clint Peck

Senate Express Their Views on Japanese Sanctions

During consideration of the ag appropriations bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a "Sense of the Senate" resolution calling for sanctions on Japanese products if Japan hasn't resumed imports of U.S. beef by the enactment of the bill.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) stated, "Our cattlemen have paid a tremendous price for the continued delays by Japanese officials to resume beef trade based on scientifically-recognized principles. Each day the Japanese market remains closed, the U.S. beef industry feels a negative economic impact equal to $6.7 million." Japanese audit teams are currently reviewing U.S. plants. The reviews are to be completed by the end of July.
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent

Beef Trade Progress Made With Canada And China

Effective immediately, all classes of U.S. cattle, including those for breeding purposes born after 1999, are eligible for entry into Canada based on prescribed certification requirements, Canada announced this week. Beef from cattle over 30 months of age will also be eligible for importation under certain conditions.

USDA Secretary Mike Johanns lauded Canada's further normalization of trade in beef and beef products.
"We are very pleased that today's announcement as we have worked closely with our Canadian counterparts establish a trading system that follows World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines for the safe trade of beef and beef products."

Meanwhile, Johanns expressed disappointment with China's announcement this week of "a limited market opening that only includes U.S. boneless beef under 30 months of age."

Johanns says China agreed at an April meeting of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Washington, D.C., to reopen its market to U.S. beef by June 30 following the development of a science-based trading protocol, consistent with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines.

"We have fully described the numerous safeguards in our system, answered many questions and delivered an abundance of factual, science-based assurances that U.S. beef is safe.

"It's time for China to open its market to all U.S. beef products, in accordance with the international standards established by the OIE," Johanns says.
-- Joe Roybal

Recognizing the signs of depression

When "Ted" (not his real name), who ranches in Southern Alberta, was in his early 50s, he was feeling cornered by external circumstances of all kinds. He couldn't make a decision about the ranch. He said if he had two things to do on a given day, he couldn't figure out which to do first.

He started feeling paranoid, as though the government, the oil companies with leases on his land, even the feed salesman, were out to get him.

Ted went on an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor — a new family of anti-depressants that includes Prozac and Zoloft) and said he felt mentally sharper than he had in years. I have several other friends my age who also went on anti-depressants for a year or two in their early 50s, and found it very helpful.

When I was in the midst of andropause (often incorrectly called male menopause) a few years ago, I went through about five years of mild depression, too. I didn't realize what it was at first. I thought I was just feeling kind of punk, was more irritable than I used to be and had lost interest in my favorite activities.

I thought if I could find a new passion, I would feel fine. My wife Elizabeth, who is a psychologist, helped me identify it as mild depression. I've since discovered depression is common among middle-age men, and it can have serious consequences.

Robert Goldney of Adelaide University is an international expert on suicide. In his private practice as a psychiatrist, he treats plenty of middle-age men.
"It may sound simplistic, crass even," he says, "but this is the reality of it — depression, depression, depression. If you could get rid of all depression, you could eliminate 50% of suicides," he says.

Goldney says part of the problem is that men, ages 25 to 65, generally don't talk about their depression. They don't turn to a doctor or a counselor for help.

I didn't want to go on an anti-depressant; I felt what I was going through a normal part of life and it would pass. Eventually it did, and I'm still not sure whether an anti-depressant would have been a better choice than toughing it out. Had I been seriously depressed (as in when you can barely get out of bed in the morning), I would definitely have gone on a medication.

Statistics say women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. That may not be true, as men are much harder to diagnose. Women tend to look inward when something is wrong (what could be wrong with me?), while men tend to look outward (what is wrong with my wife, the neighbors, the government, the world…?).

Diagnosing depression
Because of that common attitude by men, I've read it can take up to three different doctors and 10 years for a depressed man to be properly diagnosed. Men often deny depression is possible (many men see depression as a sign of weakness), and believe things would improve if other people in their lives just treated them right.

If you're worried about being depressed, here are typical symptoms:
· A depressed mood for most of the day, every day.
· Mood swings — one minute high, next minute low.
· Lack of energy, loss of interest in life.
· Irritability and restlessness.
· Disturbed sleep patterns — sleeping too much or too little.
· Significant weight loss or gain.
· Feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
· Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly.
· Loss of sex drive.
· Thoughts about death or suicide.

If you discover you're depressed, see your doctor. Keep your wife in the loop about how you are feeling, too. It can make a big difference in your relationship.

Edmonton-based Noel McNaughton speaks at meetings and conventions on “Farming/Ranching at Midlife — Strategies for a Successful Second Age.” To learn more, call 780/432-5492, e-mail farm@midlife-men.com, or visit www.midlife-men.com.

Are you cowed out?

Many ranchers, when they hit middle age, reach a point where they can hardly stand to look after cattle another day. I've heard it referred to as being "cowed out." Some friends told me about a ranching couple in Montana who sometimes talked about divorce when they had a fight. They don't anymore, however, because neither is willing to take the cows!

Suddenly being sick of your job or business is a common symptom among midlife men, prompting some to quit their jobs, sell the ranch or otherwise "kick over the traces." Once in their 60s and looking back, these folks sometimes realize they acted too hastily; all they really needed was some time away — a sabbatical. A few weeks might have done the trick, but a few months would have been better.

I am indispensible
The problem, though, is most men don't think their businesses can run without them.

If you are your business — for example, an actor, professional speaker or maybe a concert pianist — you may not be able to have someone else run it for you. But if you are producing things, such as a ranching business does, you can take a break, and you may find it very worthwhile.

Business owners who get away for a significant period often come back with renewed energy and a new perspective. It allows them to run their operations with more creativity and less physical work.

Less physical work is critical because we men begin to lose stamina, libido and energy in our late 40s and early 50s. There's nothing wrong with this — it's a normal part of life. The mistake is in pretending it isn't happening and trying to carry on as usual. It's much better to adapt to the changes.

When Blake Holtman, who owns Shipwheel Feeders at Taber, Alberta, hit his early 50s, he began to lose energy. He keeps 6,000 cattle on feed and typically runs 700 yearlings on grass in the summer. His workdays used to start at 6 a.m., and end sometime in the evening. He's worked six and seven days/week for years, but he was getting so he could hardly keep up.

He wanted a sabbatical, but didn't see how he could get away from his business. Then he noticed how his friends — who owned several auction markets — would buy a business, hire someone to run it and move on. He reasoned that if they could have other people run their businesses, he could, too.

He realized he already had an employee who could probably manage his business well. He talked to her about it, put her in charge and prepared for his getaway.

Blake and his partner Bev bought a used motor home, had it wired for telephone and Internet hook-up and headed for Mexico.

If a telephone line was available where they stopped, he'd link in his laptop and keep track of the cattle market, buy and sell animals and hedge his dollars over the Internet, plus stay in touch with his office by phone or e-mail.

If no landline was available, he used a digital cell phone, which connected to his computer to access the Internet. In areas where his cell phone didn't work, he found a payphone to check in with his manager.

They spent three months in Mexico the first winter, and have returned every year since. Blake says he's far more relaxed and easy-going than he used to be, and he doesn't get so uptight about little things. He still doesn't have as much physical energy as he used to, so he's willing to let the younger people run the business.

He says his manager doesn't always do things the way he would, but it hasn't affected his business. In fact, it's running as well as when he was working six to seven days/week.

Pay now or later?
Do you want to take a sabbatical but feel you can't? Chances are one in five you'll have to. After all, statistics show 20% of North American men have heart attacks. That will definitely take you out of commission for a while.

Whether you actually have a heart attack or not, it's simply wise planning to prepare your business to run without you. Once the plan is made, just put it in motion, take a sabbatical, and get rid of that "cowed out" feeling!

Edmonton-based Noel McNaughton lectures to groups on “Farming/Ranching at Midlife - Strategies for a Successful Second Age.” For more information, call 780/432-5492; e-mail noel@mcnaughton.ca; or visit www.midlife-men.com.

Beef Trends To Track

The food industry is notable for its twists and turns with consumer trends. Low-fat, low-carb, quality and convenience are just a few of the buzzwords that shaped grocery store offerings in the past decade.

Likewise, the beef industry has given itself a mega-makeover to appease some of those trends. Today, we have scores of branded-beef products touting everything from premium steaks and burgers to convenient heat-and-serve entrees that recreate grandma's pot roast or saucy BBQ ribs.

What does the future hold for beef products? Here, industry experts weigh in on important future consumer trends.

Growth of brands. There's no doubt branded-beef products will remain strong, says University of Nebraska meat scientist Chris Calkins. But within beef brands, he believes natural and organic programs will likely see the most growth.

Retail market signals appear to verify this prediction. Wal-Mart and Safeway recently announced expansions of in-store organic offerings. And, in early 2006, Tyson Foods unveiled two new natural beef brands — Star Ranch Natural Angus Beef and Certified Angus Beef (CAB) Natural.

The 2005 edition of a Food Marketing Institute (FMI) study looking at store development also confirms the trend. It indicates 50% of stores report their natural/organic offering is their second-most popular section, behind gourmet/specialty products (66.7%).

More beef with a story. Also related to branded beef, Colorado State University (CSU) animal science professor Tom Field predicts brands wishing to remain viable will need to evolve and sell what he terms "story beef." Using a quote from author Tom Peters, Field points out: "The problem with existing brands is they have the tendency to get dull."

Thus, Field suggests successful beef marketing in the future will incorporate emotion. As an example, he cites a promotional approach by Oregon Country Beef, which claims: "Our product is more than beef, it's the smell of sage after a summer thunderstorm, the cool shade of a Ponderosa Pine forest. It’s 80-year-old weathered hands saddling a horse in the Blue Mountains, the future of a 6-year old in a one-room school on the High Desert. It's a trout in a beaver-built pond, haystacks on an Aspen-framed meadow. It's the hardy quail running to join the cattle for a meal, the welcome ring of a dinner bell at dusk."

Of this tactic, Field says products become less important than the stories behind them. Why? "Because products can be replicated," he says. Consumers want to connect to a story. "That’s where we’ve got to go. It's more than just the bull; it’s the story behind the bull, the story behind the genetic program, the story behind the producer."

National motivational speaker Jolene Brown echoes those sentiments. "People want to buy an experience, and that's where agriculture has so much to offer," she says, adding that ranchers have a story to tell in how they care for the land and their animals.

More detailed meat labels. While the country-of-origin-labeling debate continues (a 2008 implementation is slated), fresh meat and poultry may bear new nutrition information labels. The labels would detail such information as protein, fat and carbohydrates — similar to what packaged foods already have. USDA is working on the nutritional labeling plan, and a final rule is expected soon — perhaps by year's end.

"We anticipate a federal law for nutrition labeling at retail at some point," says Mark Thomas, vice president of global marketing for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

Currently such labeling of fresh meat is voluntary. The beef industry supports such a law because it should help consumers understand the nutritional values of beef as an excellent source of iron, zinc, protein and B vitamins.

More specialty meat products. A growing food-industry trend is the development of functional foods — foods specifically promoting health or reducing disease risk. Examples include yogurt containing probiotics, which offer anti-carcinogenic properties; or eggs enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce coronary heart disease risks.

Though the functional foods category will likely represent only 5% of the global food market by 2010, it’s a product area poised to grow as consumers seek healthy alternatives. Grass-fed beef proponents believe they can promote grass-fed animals’ higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and higher omega-3 ratio than grain-fed beef. CLA has been associated with decreasing the risk of cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis and arthritis, and increasing fat metabolism. As a result, grass-fed beef products might someday be labeled as "CLA-Enriched Beef."

Similarly, other specialty-beef labels could tout beef enriched with selenium. Gerald Combs, Jr., USDA-ARS Grand Forks (ND) Human Nutrition Research Center director, says research shows selenium can reduce the risk of several types of cancer. He says North Dakota is studying beef production with high levels of selenium, and adds there's real potential for a niche market of such foods.

Another option may be marketing approaches that identify beef as a low glycemic index (GI) food. The GI was developed to help control glucose levels in diabetics. High GI foods result in a greater increase in blood glucose levels. Low GI foods, such as non-starchy fruits and vegetables, beans, and meat and dairy products, produce a smaller rise in blood glucose levels. With type 1 and 2 diabetes among the most rapidly growing health problems, there appears to be a built-in audience for GI diets.

Consumers want to know how you produced it. As food safety and quality issues drive consumer concerns, more knowledge about how food is produced will increasingly be sought.

McDonald's is among those driving this trend. Last fall, the fast-food icon hosted a quality symposium and told suppliers, agricultural organization representatives and trade media it wants the American public to be aware of how food moves from farm to table.

To that end, the company's Web site now offers a virtual tour leading visitors through the process from farm-grown food to the table. For example, consumers can click on McDonald's French fries to see where potatoes are grown and how they’re selected and prepared.

McDonald's is also moving into a realm of social responsibility — voicing support for animal-product traceability; implementing a program for humane animal treatment that includes audits at beef, poultry and pork processing plants; and developing a scoring system to assess how suppliers and facilities perform in regard to environmental issues of air, energy, water and waste.

Safeway is following McDonald's lead. It formed an animal-welfare committee consisting of company employees and industry animal-handling experts, including CSU's Temple Grandin — who helped McDonald's implement its program. Safeway will post its animal-welfare policies on its Web site later this year.

Convenience is still key. Lastly, Calkins suggests the beef industry shouldn't lose sight of consumers' quest for convenience. He predicts a general increase in demand for consumer-friendly products.

For example, Calkins sees a trend for more single-muscle cuts — such as the Flat Iron Steak, which has become hugely popular because it offers taste, convenience and price sensitivity.

Additionally, Jeff Savell, a Texas A&M University meat scientist, says we're already seeing many more fully cooked, value-added products at retail, and fewer fresh-beef cuts. Savell believes there are two reasons for this: fewer people today feel comfortable preparing beef from its raw state, and more people are demanding convenient products.

What Consumers Want

Americans apparently are both impatient and ill-informed, according to a pair of new studies released in May 2006.

According to a survey conducted by the Associated Press and Ipsos, Americans are a highly impatient people – and that waiting in line at the grocery store is the most trying time consuming experience of all. Even worse than waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles ... or the post office.

Half of people polled said that they will not return to stores that make them wait in line for too long a period of time.

At the same time, a new consumer survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation — an organization funded by food, beverage and agricultural companies — suggests there are some specific areas in which consumers don’t know as much as they should ... or even as much as they think they do.

For example:
· Almost 90% of consumers polled said they have no idea how many calories they should be consuming to maintain their weight, and only a third of those polled seem to understand how extra calories contribute to weight gain.
· 40% of those polled said that while they understood that saturated fat and trans fat are bad for them, didn’t understand that certain kinds of fats are in fact healthy and good for them.
· Nearly a third of respondents who said they were at an ideal weight were actually overweight, while 75% of those who said they were overweight were actually obese.

There is, however, some good news. The survey results also say that, "more than half of consumers reported having improved their diets in the past six months by eating fewer calories and by adjusting the foods they ate. Nearly two of every three who made improvements said they had done so after talking with a health professional or family and friends, or simply after reading food labels."