In talking to cattlemen and women across the U.S., I’ve discovered when all is said and done, cattle people are optimists. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be in the cattle business. On our operation in central Illinois, we’re about to start calving, just like some of you. There’s nothing better. You’ve bred your cows, it’s been nine months and here come those calves. Optimism.

In a couple of months, I’ll take my grandkids and we’ll slip off when nobody’s watching and go fishing. And while we’re casting, I’ll see a clump of grass, and I’ll start thinking about buying a bunch of yearlings to put out on that grass. Optimism.

Lately we’ve been buying a lot of cattle from Kentucky and North Carolina. Inevitably, they show up at 2 a.m. on some miserable snowy morning. But when those cattle unload in the dark, I think, "man, we’re going to make a hundred bucks on these." Optimism.

I can’t help it. I’ve heard profitability is just around the corner, and I believe it, even though I’ve been around the corner so many times I’ve passed myself going around the block. I believe with every inch of me that there are good times ahead. I just hope they get here before I run out of cash. That’s optimism.

In order to get to those good times, we need to overcome a few roadblocks.

One thing’s the economy. We can’t single-handedly pull the nation out of a recession, but I know one thing I want to do while I’m president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). And that’s get one-on-one time with President Obama. It’s not so far-fetched. There are plenty of NCBA presidents who’ve spent time with the President of the U.S. And, hey, we’re both from Illinois. I bet if we got together, we’d discover we have more in common. He’s got problems with the economy. So do I. So here’s what I want to tell him:

Our country was founded on farmers, fishermen, foresters and miners; people who made stuff out of the ground. They worked hard, and they produced goods. I believe to get this country back on track, Obama needs to put the money in the hands of the people who know how to create new wealth.

People in agriculture create new wealth. The cow-calf guy creates new wealth. Our partners in the industry – stockers, backgrounders, feeders and yes, even packers – add more wealth to what we create at the cow-calf level. And while creating wealth, we make food. What could be more valuable than that? We feed a nation – in fact, we feed a world – and I want our President to understand that.

We’re under attack by groups that think a growing world population can be fed by suburban backyard gardens. The fact is there aren’t many of us producing food anymore. Only 2% of the population is in ag today, and how many of us are cattle producers? A much smaller number. That’s why we must come together as food producers to help our lawmakers, help our media and help our nation understand why ag is vital to our economy and the health of our people.

NCBA is the association where we come together to get this done. Through our work for the Beef Checkoff Program, NCBA tells the beef story to consumers and people who influence consumers like media, health professionals and the people who run grocery stores and restaurants.

And here’s the other thing we need to do. We need to be a visible and united force in Washington, D.C. Our industry is staring down a lot of regulations that aren’t grounded in good science. We all have day jobs. That’s why we need people like our NCBA staff in D.C., who stay on top of these issues and make sure we don’t wake up one morning to government decisions that will put us out of business.

Every one of us needs to be a member of NCBA. For an operation with fewer than 100 head of cattle, it takes $100/year to join. That’s one tire on your pickup truck, or a tank of gas; I can’t imagine not investing $100 to keep our staff in D.C. fighting for us every day.

NCBA is a family. Our members care a lot about this industry, and we step up to the plate and sometimes, just like your family, we have it out. But it’s because we come together from different regions and different segments of the industry and we work it through that we are the definitive voice of the beef industry. And in the end, we are united by one goal, and that’s a beef industry that is profitable, growing and sustainable for future generations. It is our optimism that will make this reality.
-- Steve Foglesong is an Astoria, IL cow-calf and feedlot operator, and current NCBA President