Despite the specter of volatility that seems to surround all aspects of economic life these days, things are definitely looking up for the U.S. beef industry. With prices dramatically up for all classes of cattle, beef exports showing growing strength, and demand improving both domestically and internationally, this is a good time to take a hard look at the current checkoff’s ability to serve the industry in the years ahead.

A team of industry volunteers laid out a roadmap to prosperity at last month’s Cattle Industry Convention in Denver. The group, members of the Long Range Plan Task Force, which includes 23 representatives from all major industry sectors, delivered their plan for building “an industry united around a common goal of being the world’s most trusted and preferred source of beef and beef products.”

You can read the entire document at beefusa.org, but the group’s six core strategies include:

  • Improve domestic consumer preference for beef.
  • Capitalize on global growth opportunities.
  • Strengthen the image of beef and the beef industry.
  • Protect and enhance our freedom to operate.
  • Improve industry trust, openness and relationships.
  • Position the U.S. cowherd for growth.

As one scans the piece, it becomes clear that the need for communication – the ability to tell the industry’s story to various audiences – is the lynchpin in realizing much of this industry wish list.

It’s been said that “every doctor wants to be a rancher, but not ever rancher wants to be a doctor.” It’s the romance of the cattle business and its storied history of independence and wide open spaces, its purity and oneness with nature, that appeal to folks in virtually every walk of life, culture and locale.

But beyond the romance, the beef industry has a tremendous success story to share with its various audiences. It’s our enviable record of stewardship of the natural resources and animals under our care. There’s our record on food safety and the quality of the end product. And, what other business in the world can boast of a sustainability model that utilizes marginal acres to convert sunlight and grass into a highly nutrient-dense protein such as beef?

This industry has an immensely compelling and saleable story, but the effort has to be made to tell it. That requires communication, which requires effort, which requires money.

The problem is that the buying power of the mandatory $1 beef checkoff passed two decades ago has been greatly diluted, not only by inflation but by the fewer numbers of cattle moving in trade these days. For the industry to compete in the future, it needs a war chest that’s up to the job.

This is an issue the industry and beef producers must address, sooner rather than later.