Those in our industry who wage the daily battle know it's an ongoing struggle with increasingly high stakes. I'm always amazed at the efforts of staffers from all the various cattlemen's groups on behalf of keeping our industry viable. They're usually underpaid in relative terms but, like the ranchers they represent, are driven by a passion for this business and all it represents.

Then there are those volunteers who stay active in the process. I'm not talking about the elected leadership -- who garner individual acknowledgement for their effort -- so much as those anonymous folks who attend the committee meetings, endure the endless bureaucratic wrangling, and do the dirty work with little credit. Needless to say, this group isn't only the group that keeps our political influence so strong, but they are the one in shortest supply.

When you make your goals for 2007, becoming more involved in your state and national cattlemen's associations hopefully will move up your list. It's more important than ever that cattlemen become involved, as redistricting likely will result in the most urban-oriented Congress in history, diluting the rural voice even more at a critical time.

In the offing is a new farm bill, while a tight budget situation will force some tough program-funding decisions at the federal level. Also ahead are battles with activists over environmental, animal rights, and diet and health issues. And there are philosophical issues such as country-of-origin labeling, captive supplies, packer ownership, etc., hanging in the balance.

There also are other intra-family battles within ag -- subsidy and support programs that artificially raise demand and limit supply, such as the corn-ethanol issue. Issues like the Conservation Reserve Program reduce tillable acres at a time when $3 corn will be heightening demand for grazing.

While the recent shift in Congressional leadership philosophically appears more liberal, the political orientation of both Houses actually has continued toward the right. More than likely that equates to a whole lot of gridlock and posturing, but also means the level of backroom dealing is likely to increase. With a lot of traditional democratic constituencies looking for a payback for their support, the industry will be much more on the defensive compared to recent years.

The same dynamics will be at work on the state level. Expect anti-meat activists to continue the tactics that brought them success in initiatives on state ballots in the last election cycle.

The bottom line is that if ever there were a time to do more than merely pay your association dues, this is it. Get actively involved.