Tag Archives: beef farming

Who will be the Scott Frost of the beef industry?

I got to know Dr. Richard Raymond serving on Tyson Fresh Meat’s Farm Check animal wellbeing committee. A native of the Nebraska Sandhills, Doc served as Undersecretary for Food Safety at the US Department of Agriculture from 2005-2008. A blended background in medical practice, food production, and regulatory savvy makes for an interesting perspective and Doc has a natural ability to always leave me thinking…

Last weekend, I popped open my facebook account to find a Feedstuffs article that he authored. The title “Frost Returns to Nebraska” caught my attention as any true Nebraskan is aware that the Cornhuskers recently hired Coach Scott Frost to lead our football team back to greatness.  A former Husker quarterback, Frost led Nebraska to its last national championship game twenty years ago. I remember it vividly as it was my first football season on the farm in Nebraska.

The Big Red Nation has gathered around Coach Frost in support, and the hope of a return to greatness permeates the hearts of the 1,896,190 residents that call the Cornhusker state home. I never understood the united pull of loyalty toward a football team until I moved to Husker country. It seems that all 77,220 square miles of prairie bleeds red on game day as fans from all across the state unite to cheer on their boys of fall.

Doc raised an interesting challenge in his article:

Who will lead the beef industry to united greatness so that we can effectively communicate with our customers and build trust in our product?

It is no secret that the beef industry struggles for unity on a vast array of issues with over 900,000 independent farmers and ranchers that care for over 93 million animals. It takes an average of 2 years to bring beef from farm to fork, and many animals have multiple owners across their lifetime. The complex lifecycle of beef results from a unique blend of resources needed to bring the animals from a birth weight of approximately 75# to a final weight in the neighborhood of 1300#.

It takes a team of people to care for a calf across his lifetime; and politics divide the beef industry in much the same way that they currently antagonize the unity of our great Nation.

  • A divided nation struggles to tell its story.
  • A divided nation creates internal chaos which drowns out the voices of its customers.
  • A divided nation fails to achieve as high a level of efficiency when striving to work for continuous improvement.

In the twenty years since Scott Frost led the Huskers to the National Championships, I’ve often wondered what it would take to create a unified effort of cattlemen across the United States. The majority of us agree on so many important things:

  • Quality animal welfare
  • A strong focus on food safety
  • A need to care for the environment
  • The importance of transitioning our farms/ranches across generations so that our children can carry on the tradition of raising food.

The list is long and the importance of success cannot be understated. Within each of those above topics lies a long list of subtopics as we strive to responsibly raise a quality beef product.

Does any one person exist that can unite us in our search for greatness?

I don’t know, but I can tell you that it will take a team of dedicated individuals to deal with the challenge of building trust with our customers.

Together we are stronger.

Learning to listen, pool our ideas, and create viable production changes to meet customer asks will determine the success of the industry over the next twenty years. I don’t want to lose my ability to create a memorable family dinner centered around a delicious steak any more than the die-hard Husker Nation plans to let the tradition of victory fall by the wayside.

Scott Frost provides the beginning to a great Husker game plan –

Who will be the Scott Frost of the beef industry?


Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

The Victim, The Villain, and the Great Debate…

Chris Leonard joined our discussion on Sunday commenting on Setting the Stage.  He stated,

Farmers and ranchers are clearly the heroes of this book, as any casual reader will quickly be able to determine.”

As I read his remark it occurred to me how varied our perspectives are, as I failed to find a hero amongst his hundreds of pages of rhetoric.  Perhaps there were moments of personifying farmers and ranchers as victims, but I found the negative underlying tone of the book incapable of creating a hero.  As with any story that depicts a victim, the author must also define a villain.

The past thirty plus years have seen a tremendous amount of change in the way that meat gets from the farm to the grocery store.  Consolidation occurred as a search for economic sustainability advanced all across the food production chain.  Tight margins, volatile markets, increased government regulations, new food safety standards and variable weather all came together to create a complex set of challenges that taxed even the most seasoned entrepreneurs.

We aren't just farmers, we are entrepreneurs constantly searching for ways to keep our way of life sustainable...

I am a farmer, and I am most certainly  not a victim.  Rather, I am an entrepreneur constantly searching for ways to keep my way of life sustainable…

Mr. Leonard argues that the resulting consolidation has crippled both the farmer and rural America.  He believes that the integration and collaboration resulting from greater merging at the packing plant level has negatively affected market trade.  In particular, he casts Tyson Foods as his villain.  He writes:

“People didn’t see the radical transformation that was taking place on American Farms, but the benefit invisibly accrued to their food budgets with each pound of Tyson chicken, beef, and pork they brought home.  But this benefit wasn’t free.  Consumers got savings up front, but they paid for it over time.  Essentially, consumers traded away the U.S. farming system in order to get the up-front savings from industrial meat.  Each new Tyson farm, and each new Tyson meat factory, ate away at the fabric of a profitable sector of Middle America’s economy.”

Chris Leonard, The Meat Racket

In my opinion, the modern food production system is not made up of victims and villains.  Rather, those of us that remain in 2014 are a testimony that teamwork, innovation, and tenacity can lead to a system that grants consumers a varied choice of safe foods at an affordable price.  The U.S. farming system still exists; it simply has changed to meet evolving consumer expectations.

I not only grow beef, but I also am a mom who cooks it to feed to her family...

I am not just a beef farmer, but I also am a mom who cooks that beef to feed to her family…

Vertical integration now predominantly exists in the poultry industry, while more collaborative relationships between farmers and packing plants in both the pork and beef industries have slowly begun to take the place of the traditionally contentious relationships of the past.  While this does create a new normal, I do not look upon it with a pejorative lens.

These types of new relationships allow for increased food safety measures all across the animal’s lifespan, as well as the ability to work together to attain improved animal welfare. They allow for innovative farmers to be rewarded for higher quality meat and better farming practices; and they create a mechanism for the farmer to better connect with his/her customers.  The result drives innovation and team work which benefits all Americans.

The latest Tyson effort to ensure good animal welfare on the farm...

On a personal note, I have gotten to know many of the executives and managers on the Tyson team over the past year as I have served on Tyson’s 3rd Party Animal Well-being committee for their Farm Check program.  I have found that these people share many of the same priorities and aspirations as I do.  We are driven individuals who work passionately toward the end goal of producing safe and affordable food.  We do not always agree, but there is a level of respect that permeates our relationship.  I know that I learn from them, and I certainly hope that they benefit from my contributions.CPB_FINStripcut

I believe that together we bring integrity, innovation, and ultimately better food products to your table.

  • For more information on the history of Tyson Foods and pertinent facts about the company’s core values and market share please read the company’s fact book.
  • For an economic expert’s opinion on the market debate brought up in The Meat Racket, see Dr. Michael Dick’s perspective on Agriculture Proud.


Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General