U.S. red meat production is predicted to decline through 2012, parallel with domestic per-capita meat consumption, USDA recently projected. Fewer cattle numbers are adding up to higher live-cattle prices, but also higher prices at retail. In fact, USDA reported a 9.4% jump in retail beef prices in February 2011 from the year-earlier price. How high can the price of beef go before consumers are forced to go with other protein sources?

Randy Blach, CattleFax CEO, says beef demand will be all important in retaining and building consumer dollars in the face of lower numbers and higher retail prices. And, with grilling season in full-swing these days, he recommends ranchers go the extra mile to encourage consumers to choose steak this summer.

“One of the best things we can do when we grill a steak is make a video of it and put it on YouTube. Every rancher has their favorite rubs or marinades, and consumers will place value on seeing a rancher prepare their own beef on the grill. If you don’t know how to put a video on YouTube or don’t think you have the time, get your kids to help you out,” Blach suggests.

Today, YouTube is a more popular search engine than Google; Facebook messages are quickly replacing traditional emails; and Twitter is a complete, one-stop shop for news and information. Online social networking sites have certainly become a mainstream way for communicating with others, and modern ranchers are taking advantage of these tools to share the agriculture story with their customers.

• Laura Nielson, a South Dakota dairy farmer, has 890 followers on her YouTube channel, where she frequently posts videos of herself feeding calves, administering shots and harvesting crops.

• Meanwhile, Arkansas cattle feeder, Ryan Goodman, has coined the term “Agriculture Proud” to share his message through all Internet channels. His posts can be found at http://agricultureproud.com/.

• New to the Twitter arena is Krissa Welshans, a Michigan beef producer. She already has 196 followers on Twitter, where she provides updates from her cattle operation using the trending topic #farmlife.

• And, South Dakota’s Troy Hadrick, who along with his wife Stacy were feted as BEEF magazine’s 2010 Trailblazer honorees, also uses the Twitter trending technique. His 2,390 followers were able to read his calving season updates this spring at #calving11.

(The # symbol is called a “hashtag” on Twitter and helps those interested in learning more about a certain topic quickly find relevant information. For example, a marathon runner might follow the hashtags #run or #training.)

But, perhaps the most successful of them all is Ree Drummond, an Oklahoma ranch wife who has used her blog, www.thepioneerwoman.com, to reach millions with her essays on the cattle business, raising kids and cooking beef. She has extended her daily ramblings into an entrepreneurial effort, earning high acclaim on the New York Times Best Sellers list for her cookbook, “The Pioneer Woman Cooks,” and her novel, “The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – A Love Story.” And, she’s just debuted a children’s book, “Charlie, The Ranch Dog.”

A BEEF Daily reader once asked me why I insist on encouraging ranchers to interact directly with consumers. He said beef promotion wasn’t among his top 10 list of priorities.

While I know there are countless things to do each day on a working ranch, we can’t afford not to promote our products to our customers. This summer, join me in using online social networking tools to share your story. For additional tips and tricks, read the BEEF Daily blog, check out BEEF on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter at @BEEFMagazine. Follow the hashtags #ranchlife and #summergrilling for updates and join our efforts to boost beef demand and promote agricultural life.