With the cattle market on the upswing, it's important that beef producers take advantage of the improved outlook being forecast for the next several years. After all, the decisions made today will greatly determine an operation's viability and competitiveness in the next price downturn.

Those decisions are best reached with a "big picture" thought process. For instance, a change in breeding emphasis that increases milk production will more than likely have an effect on feed resources and stocking rate. So, careful consideration of the effects of a decision made in one management area on other aspects of the operation is extremely important.

An excellent tool that many producers use to focus in on that "big picture" when making decisions is Integrated Resource Management (IRM). IRM practitioners use the expertise of outside professionals in a team approach to attain optimal financial and production efficiency in their beef cattle operations.

A New Feature And Partnership With that said, it's my pleasure this month to announce a special partnership and introduce a new feature to the pages of BEEF magazine. Inserted across from page 18 of this issue you'll find a four-page newsletter called IRM NEWS. This quarterly newsletter is the official communication piece of the IRM program. You'll find it on a quarterly basis only in BEEF. It can also be accessed through the BEEF web site (www.homefarm.com), or through the web site of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (www.beef.org) by clicking on the "Quality" icon at the top of their home page.

By running in BEEF, the IRM newsletter receives a significantly greater reach. The partnership also saves the IRM program mailing costs and a majority of its previous production costs. The IRM staff, by the way, retains full editorial control of IRM NEWS.

For the 100,000+ readers of BEEF magazine, IRM NEWS provides additional valuable production and management information. We see it as a win-win alliance in which BEEF can better serve its readership while at the same time helping to grow a worthwhile and critical industry program.

Fight For Fast Track It was disappointing to see the White House forced to abandon its effort for fast-track trading authority due to a lack of support in the U.S. House. Fast track allows the president to negotiate international trade deals and submit them to Congress for a vote without being amended.

With the issue set to be revisited in the 1998 Congress, U.S. beef producers need to wage an all-out effort for passage. The industry has much at stake since the international market is the fastest growing segment of demand for U.S. beef. In fact, Merlyn Carlson, a Nebraska rancher and president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, estimates that the U.S. beef industry can expect beef exports to increase by 40% over the next 10 years.

Even more intriguing is the analysis by Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Lakewood, CO. Robb says internationally poultry production has outstripped demand while beef production has lagged behind demand. Why hamstring ourselves, then, in the most promising and active part of the marketing game?

With beef, poultry and chicken combining for record domestic consumption levels, the competitive situation in the U.S. is one of trying to steal market share from your competitors. Internationally, however, there's room for growth and new territory to win.

The U.S. beef industry must be proactive in the international arena. Currently, political opportunists and short-sighted special interests are calling for a rollback of U.S. involvement in world trade agreements.

We can't let these reactionary elements impede a bright future in international trade. If you want world peace and domestic prosperity, a healthy world trade situation is a huge step toward attaining it. Call your representatives and get them on the fast track.