“The challenge to BIF is to remain dynamic and move into the 21st century with a program attuned to the technology of that era. Embryo transfer, cloning, sexed semen, gene splicing, super computers, satellite conferences, EPDs for carcass traits…”

Those were the predictions by Frank Baker, a forefather of BIF, when he reflected on the organization's past, present and future at the annual BIF meeting held in Albuquerque, NM in 1988. Though spoken 20 years ago, they're a testament to Baker's visionary understanding of the guidance that BIF should provide to the industry — then and now.

In his remarks in 1988, Baker provided another epiphany by saying, “Beef improvement of the decades ahead can be made by keeping the BIF model relevant, fine-tuning it, and applying it effectively to the accelerated pace of development in the future.”

Baker posed the question, “How will BIF relate to:

  • monoclonal-antibody products,

  • vaccines produced by biotechnology,

  • recombinant DNA-derived protein drugs,

  • fetal diagnostic testing,

  • gene therapy,

  • altered bacteria and

  • the public attitude about scientific modification of animals.

“Frankly, I hardly know the definitions of the words, but those of you who aspire to breed cattle in the 21st century must learn them and know them well!”

It's that foresight that's made BIF instrumental in helping beef producers understand and incorporate genetic improvement technologies across the industry.

Looking ahead, current BIF executive director Twig Marston says BIF will need to continue its efforts in standardizing information and its application to the beef industry.

Specifically, Marston, who is a Kansas State University Extension beef specialist and professor, says, “BIF will need to assist the industry in adapting to genomic/gene marker technology, as well as challenging the beef production system to improve efficiency and product quality.”

Additional challenges

Of the future, Larry Corah, Certified Angus Beef vice president, says, “One of the key things BIF continues to do is provide accurate genetic predictors for the future — and we've got tremendous progress to make.” He counts feed efficiency and animal health as genetic-improvement traits the industry must continue to work toward.

Corah also credits BIF with expanding its horizons. He says, “In the early years, BIF members were very focused on information and data here in the U.S., but they've become very global in their perspective. That's been a beneficial evolution.”

Iowa seedstock breeder Steve Radakovich believes changes in the beef industry will include raising cattle on more forages than has been traditional in the past.

Of this, he says, “That presents a whole new array of questions and answers for beef improvement. Can we use the same test procedures for a high-concentrate diet and apply them to an all-forage diet — or maybe we need to adjust? These issues, coupled with genomics, are going to be challenging, but also very rewarding and exciting for the beef industry.”

Radakovich, who served as BIF president in 1983, says BIF's focus on science is continually important. “Science is knowledge, and that's really given the beef industry some genetic meat,” he says.

Going forward, Willie Altenburg, associate vice president of beef marketing for Genex Cooperative and a current BIF board member, says he hopes the industry will take time to use the data that's been compiled. As a beef producer himself, Altenburg says, “At times I wonder if there's such a thing as too much data. I recall when the performance movement was in its infancy, and we calculated 205-day weights by hand and then entered them individually on each cow's card with a pencil.

“By doing so, we seemed to remember more about each cow, and which one was doing (or not doing) her job. Now we get a printout sorted five different ways and can review data on screen and then file it… but I don't seem to know my cows as well as I once did. I think we need to take time to really use the data.”

Regarding BIF's role in the future, Altenburg anticipates the organization will help the industry with better use and understanding of genetic-selection indexes. He also hopes BIF continues to pro-vide visionary guidance for its member organizations. Examples he suggests include assisting breed associations and beef cattle Extension with determining their future roles in the industry.

Likewise, Colorado State University's Tom Field foresees BIF continuing to drive innovation and assuring that genetic evaluation is conducted on the best science and best practices.

Despite new changes and challenges ahead, Iowa seedstock producer Dave Nichols sums up one thought many hope won't change about BIF. He concludes, “One of reasons BIF prospered was because we'd sit down and do business. It was a working meeting; no one was allowed to sell anything or give a commercial. I hope that part of BIF never changes.”

No matter what the future holds, BIF supporters emphasize that learning from the past and working together are two of the most important criteria for the industry's success. A statement on the BIF Web site captures this sentiment:

“BIF is a story of how cow people neighbor together to bring about monumental change in the beef industry. The idea is to observe with objective clarity the past, so that in the dust of the milling herds of today, the perceptions of the future on which the industry must act can be clearly seen.”

Visit www.beefimprovement.org for more information.