BEEF Daily

Chandler Keys: Beef Industry Needs A Beef 101 Short Course

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The beef industry needs to be prepared to share the beef production story, from pasture to plate, in layman’s terms.

Earlier this summer, BEEF magazine writers gathered for our annual planning meeting. While in Minneapolis, we had the opportunity to visit with several industry leaders about their thoughts on the industry’s greatest challenges. One of these individuals was Chandler Keys, head of government affairs and industry relations for JBS-USA in Washington, D.C. Keys stressed the importance of sharing the beef production story from pasture to plate.

“I think a big issue that is coming down the pike is how food gets to the table and all the things that make food what it is at grocery stores and restaurants,” said Keys. “There is a growing concern from the upper middle class about how food is produced. They will continue to push on how food gets to the table -- all the inputs, how it’s grown, where it’s grown, who is doing it. The problem is that the industry is more reactive than proactive, and when they are proactive, they tend to hide the ball. They want to show rainbows and butterflies.

“In the industry, everyone likes the hat, the boots, the grass and the cow; and everyone loves the steak and the hamburger. But nobody wants to talk about what happens in the middle. I bet if you had a poll asking producers how cows go through the process, I think you would not see many passing grades. I think this is a troubling aspect of our industry. We know how to talk about our segment, but we don’t know how to talk about it all the way through,” Keys said.

I’ll admit, I can probably talk more eloquently about the cow-calf sector, having grown up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota. And, I’m probably more comfortable speaking about the retail end of things, relying on my collegiate experiences on the meats judging team and working in the meat lab. However, although I’m familiar with what stockers, feeders and packers do, am I prepared to speak in layman’s terms to a consumer about these sectors of the beef production story?

I think this is an important question to ask ourselves, no matter which segment we are a part of. Keys thinks the industry needs a Beef 101 Short Course, where we learn how to explain how beef gets to the dinner plate in terms that consumers can relate to and understand.

“I think everybody has to start off with a knowledge of the basics and be able to articulate the basics of how it works with the public,” he added. “I think our communication with the public is poor. There are so many moving parts, it’s just daunting -- it’s a wonder it even works to tell you the truth, but it does, but nobody talks about it. There are just a few of us who can sit down and go through it and tell it in layman’s turns. How do we think we can have a conversation with the public at large?”

You have to know your industry before you can talk about it. You have to be able to articulate it in a 10-minute conversation. Luckily, the beef industry has a variety of resources in place such as the checkoff-funded Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) Program, which offers six online courses with factoids and talking points to explain the beef production story from pasture to plate.

As an MBA graduate, I often reference the information provided in this course. I encourage everyone to check it out and make the time commitment -- around 1 hr./course -- to go through this program. Interested parties can get more information about it here.

In addition, watch for the upcoming August issue of BEEF, when we’ll begin a special monthly series of articles on this BEEF 101 topic, called “Connecting The Dots.”

If a consumer walked up to you today in the grocery store and asked you to explain how her steak got to her dinner plate, would you be prepared to explain it to her?

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Juanita Reed-Boniface (not verified)
on Jul 17, 2012

Yes, I believe that I could, Like Chandler I know the cow/calf segment best, but have some experience with feedyards and processing. I too endorse the great resources provided through MBA , NCBA and our land-grant universities. U of MN has a series of correspondence courses on beef production that I have found helpful.

Keith Evans (not verified)
on Jul 17, 2012

The most serious public relations issues that agriculture faces when dealing with consumers are ones that we can't do anything about, or won't. To get beef on the table, calves are castrated without pain killer, fed in large concentrated feedlots, and then killed. It is a fact that we can do little if anything about. Large amounts of chemicals and fertilizer are used to produce feed crops, and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the Mississippi, is growing. It is difficult to justify this to those who are environmentally conscious. And then there is the farm bill that in addition to helping farmers, rewards wealthy farmers with huge amounts if money. Farmers and farm organizations don't like to talk about this, or offer solutions.

All of these PR problems are compounded by the fact that fewer and fewer consumers have any direct connection to agriculture or to farmers and ranchers. So we get little sympathy.

Keith Evans

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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