The beef industry must work day to day to keep its eye on the target. That's the motivation for Carl Crabtree, a Grangeville, ID rancher, in his efforts to make sure Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programming remains “job one” throughout the U.S. beef industry.

For nearly 20 years, BQA educational programming has reached thousands of beef and dairy producers in nearly every state. BQA concepts have been instrumental in encouraging producers to use the latest in science and technology in producing safe, wholesome and quality beef.

A BQA hallmark was the 1991 Beef Quality Audit, which established a baseline for industry quality issues. That first-ever comprehensive audit of the nation's beef supply determined the industry lost nearly $280/head due to quality defects for the average fed animal marketed.

The majority of loss was due to excess fat, lack of marbling and other defects, including injection-site lesions. Similarly, the 1994 market-cow and bull audit revealed carcass defects, many of which could be avoided by using BQA pre-harvest management practices.

The 2005 National Beef Quality Audit indicated significant progress was made by all industry segments to improve overall acceptance of beef carcasses entering fabrication at U.S. processing facilities.

“The audit results prove producers are doing things right to improve beef quality — and the findings support the idea that improved quality has a positive impact on beef demand and our bottom line,” says Ran Smith, a Kansas veterinarian and chair of the Quality Assurance Advisory Board.

The third in the series of market-cow and bull audits will be released this winter. Like those before it, this audit will serve as a roadmap for producers to follow in improving quality. And it will help national and state BQA programs address quality issues with beef producers.

Because BQA is supported largely by beef-checkoff dollars, the program is continually the subject of examination.

This is where some of the beef industry's most highly respected leaders have consistently stepped up to the plate, keeping BQA alive, well and among the mix of programs designed to build beef demand and maintain consumer confidence in the beef industry.

The right thing

Last year, Crabtree, a volunteer leader with undaunting passion for the beef industry, became chairman of the beef industry's Joint Producer Education Committee as the beef industry rolled out its 2010 Long-Range Plan. Crabtree saw in BQA a good program that could get better, and one that could be improved to address industry concerns for the new century.

The goals in the long-range plan motivated Crabtree to appoint a working group to review and develop a new strategic plan for the BQA program.

“BQA has had great leadership that is already recognized by the industry,” Crabtree says. “We're just providing it with a set of fresh legs and making sure BQA programs continue to produce results in the country.”

He called on existing Quality Assurance Advisory Board members, nationally known veterinarians, BQA state coordinators and producer-leaders from across the country to serve as part of this planning task force.

Crabtree parlayed his personal zeal and leadership into this effort, which resulted in a strategic plan for future BQA programming. Over the past 18 months, he's been at the forefront of a determined effort to make sure the program remains a large part of the beef industry and builds on the Quality Assurance concepts developed back in the late 1980s.

Crabtree has his thumbprint pressed firmly into BQA's new persona and says implementing BQA practices from “genome to grill” will continue to be a high priority for the beef industry. Longtime leaders in BQA initiatives, such as Dee Griffin, DVM, an Extension feedlot specialist with the University of Nebraska's Great Plains Veterinary Center, believe the new strategic plan is “the right thing to do.”

A strategic plan

The program's Strategic Plan 2010 was unveiled at the cattle industry's annual summer conference in Denver in July. As a beef-checkoff initiative, the plan was approved for funding by the Beef Promotion and Operating Committee in September.

“With the new strategic plan, BQA will provide an accountability claim that will define the beef industry for at least the next 20 years,” Crabtree says. “BQA has always been about producing safe, wholesome and quality beef. We've simply rekindled the fire under it, and we're going to keep that fire going.”

“The effort Carl led provides a formalized plan that will unite the aims of all the existing state BQA programs,” says Ryan Ruppert, director of BQA programming for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). “The industry is indebted to Carl for the time and effort he's made to renew the long-range plan to guide BQA nationally.”

Strategic priorities for BQA include developing a standard national manual and certification, funding for targeted pilot programs, initiatives for “non-fed” market cows and bulls, and a dairy industry initiative. Ruppert says the architects of the strategic plan also want to maintain the flexibility that state BQA coordinators have to address individual state needs and market opportunities, while promoting the national standards.

“BQA programming has been a tremendous tool in helping build beef demand and increase consumer confidence in beef,” Ruppert explains. “But it was certainly time to take a new and fresh look at BQA programming with a long-term perspective, given all that's happened in the industry over the past few years.”

Crabtree is the first to recognize that while he helped usher in the new age of BQA, it would not have a future if not for its past.

“This program is a testament to the efforts of cattle industry leaders beginning in the 1980s who developed the first program, when reducing injection-site lesions was the rallying point,” he says. “As new issues arose, these volunteers were the ones who responded and, with the help of state coordinators, led industry efforts to maintain quality production practices so our consumers remained confident in our product.”

Barry Dunn, Kingsville, TX, executive director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, acknowledges past BQA successes.

“The most widely cited examples of the positive impact of BQA programs relates to the decrease in injection-site blemishes,” he says. “However, it's clear that due to BQA, industry participants at all levels take ownership of that increase in consumer demand.”

While progress on the injection-site issue has been impressive, Ken Odde, Manhattan, KS, head of the Kansas State University Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, says the loss of this issue as a “rallying point” for BQA has caused some reduction in energy and focus for the program.

“The beef industry has changed a great deal since the first BQA program was developed,” Odde adds. “It appears this is a good time for the development of a strategic plan for BQA.”

Paul Genho, president of Farm Management Co., Salt Lake City, UT, says to fully utilize the BQA network in the future, new strategies need to be developed.

“Obviously,” he says, “if a quality national program is to exist, quality national leadership, both professional and voluntary, must be in place.”

What makes a leader?

For Crabtree, it's all in a day's work.

“Everyone who cares about this industry should give something back in return for what's it's given them,” Crabtree says. “The only way I can contribute to this industry is by giving it my time and energy.”

Crabtree says he tries to look at the beef industry from “50,000 ft. in the air.” For the man who spends the better part of 20% of his time as a volunteer beef industry leader, it's that perspective that helps him see where the industry is headed.

Carrying the torch

“I get a great deal of personal satisfaction when I see other people get excited about this business and use their skills to constructively change it for the better,” he says.

Going back to his days as a 4-H member and leader, Crabtree says everyone has some leadership ability. “It's just a matter of looking around and seeing where a fire needs to be lit and finding someone to help carry the torch.”

He says an effective leader needs to be responsive to the industry and never lose sight of the fact that teamwork gets things done.

“It doesn't matter what segment of the industry you're in,” he explains. “We're all in this together.”

Crabtree sees leadership as ascertaining where the industry needs to go, then gathering up the right people to get there. Sometimes criticism is part of leadership, but like the mantra of the BQA movement, he says making tough decisions because they are “the right thing to do” makes the industry better at the end of the day.

“Sometimes you've got to be hard-nosed, and that might rub some people the wrong way,” he says. “But if your goal is to have everybody like you, you might as well be a border collie.”

Trailblazer profile

Carl Crabtree

Town: Grangeville, ID

Age: 55

Born and raised: Kooskia, ID

Wife: Carolyn

Children: James, Diana, Angela

Industry memberships:

  • Idaho Cattle Association (past president)
  • Cattlemen's Beef Board, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (current chair, Producer Education Committee)
  • North American Limousin Foundation

BQA's mission

“BQA's broad mission is to maximize consumer confidence in beef and give producers a “best practices” road map to increased profitability. The program is guided by three fundamental principles: (1) producers can make a difference; (2) quality is the producer's job, not someone else's; and (3) product safety and wholesomeness is everyone's business.

BQA brings together beef and dairy producers with one strong goal: to produce safe, wholesome beef that provides a great eating experience every time.

Its stated mission: “To maximize consumer confidence in and acceptance of beef by focusing the producers' attention to daily production practices that influence the safety, wholesomeness and quality of beef and beef products through the use of science, research and education initiatives.”

There are currently 43 BQA advisors in the U.S. For more information, visit www.bqa.org or contact Ryan Ruppert at 303-694-0305 or rruppert@beef.org.

Past winners

1994
Burke Healey
Oklahoma

1995
Roger Stuber
North Dakota

1996
Connie Greig
Iowa

1997
Wythe Willey
Iowa

1998
Johh Harris
David Wood
California

1999
Mary Burke
Washington

2000
Dennis Swan
Minnesota

2001
Rob Brown
Texas

2002
Mike Byrne
California

2003
Lucy Rechel
Nevada

2004
Jan Lyons
Kansas

2005
Jackie Moore
Missouri

2006
Bob & Nancy Montross
South Dakota

For more information on past Trailblazer Award honorees, visit: beefmagazine.com/mag/beef_look_back/