From the time she married South Dakota rancher Bob Adrian in 1957, Pat Adrian — who grew up as a town kid — has taken her role as a ranch wife and beef promoter to heart.
Among her first duties as a bride was enrolling in the Cow Belles (now Cattlewomen) at the behest of her new mother-law, whom Adrian says was the “ultimate volunteer” with membership in several organizations.
As Adrian raised four boys on their commercial ranch near White River, SD, she enjoyed her involvement in promoting and educating others about beef through the Cow Belles. That eventually led to her election to the state beef council in 1970. From those early beginnings, she went on to a full-time executive position with the South Dakota Beef Industry Council (SDBIC) that lasted 33 years until her July 1 retirement.
During those three decades, Adrian has seen ample changes — all of which she believes have been important for moving the beef industry forward. Here, she recounts some of those milestones and shares her thoughts for the future.
The beef checkoff
Without a doubt, Adrian calls the addition of the $1/head beef checkoff through the 1985 farm bill as the biggest milestone of her tenure.
“We had two referenda that failed prior to that, but the cattle industry wanted a program, and we had to put the right one together. I feel the industry did, and the $1/head checkoff has created so many benefits,” she says.
As examples, she cites the abundance of research on the nutritional and heart-healthy benefits of beef, along with the research findings that have helped scientifically combat the food-safety issues that threatened the beef industry.
Despite the accomplishments, Adrian says the beef checkoff is still very much needed for its three-pronged mission of research, promotion and education.
Even in her retirement Adrian says, “I'm going to continue being a supporter of the beef checkoff. So few people know what it does or how it works. The industry needs the funds to continue to educate, inform and teach consumers about beef.”
That said, Adrian sees the next big issue for the checkoff as making a case to increase the amount collected per head. “The $1 we started with when the checkoff went into effect in 1986 is now equivalent to about 55¢ [because of inflation].”
Adrian isn't certain on the amount of increase needed, but adds, “I would assume $2 might be the next step.” She's optimistic and says, “I believe the industry will rise to the occasion, strengthen the program, and do what's best.”
New beef product development has been another industry evolution Adrian has seen come about largely through checkoff-funded research. She recalls that, as a ranch wife in the 1960s, canned beef was the only “convenient” beef product offered. Now, the list of heat-and-serve beef entrées is long and varied.
Among her favorites are the meatballs and the pot roast with gravy. She says even though she's a ranch wife with a freezer full of beef, such products have helped her put together a quick, nutritious meal for her family many a time. And she adds, “If I don't tell them they're from the grocery store, they rarely know the difference.”
Adrian credits the success of these products to the industry listening to consumers and then delivering convenient, flavorful beef products that meet consumer's needs. That is something Adrian says the beef industry must continue to do.
In her leadership role with the SDBIC, Adrian worked closely over the years with South Dakota State University (SDSU) meat scientists on new-product and beef-quality research. She says that was a highlight.
One of Adrian's favorite memories is from the early '80s when Kevin Jones, a young SDSU researcher, was taking apart the muscles of the chuck. That was well over a decade before research at the University of Nebraska led to the value-added cuts. Adrian says, “I look back at that and we were already on that trail.”
For her home state, she adds, “We're fortunate to have a strong meat research program at SDSU. They've earned national recognition, and the SDBIC will continue to look at ways to work closely with them.”
For Adrian, a personal career highlight is the people — those she calls the “thinkers and doers” — she had the opportunity to work with.
“I'm proudest of the people from South Dakota. We've had many get involved and hold leadership positions on a national level. They're committed to trying to figure out what's best for the industry,” she says.
Her advice to her successor and others in beef council leadership positions is to “work with everybody.” She says, “Even people who might not like the program [the checkoff] bring good ideas.”
Additionally, Adrian encourages everyone in the beef industry to take time to volunteer. She concludes, “I've had a long history with the beef council, and it's the volunteers who really make a difference. People have to volunteer and be involved, or we won't survive.”
Editor's note: First up in Adrian's retirement is a 50th wedding anniversary celebration with husband Bob. Then she's looking forward to simply spending time on the ranch, enjoying her grandchildren, and volunteering at her local library and museum.
Meanwhile, Barry Jennings, Ft. Pierre, SD, succeeds Adrian as SDBIC executive director. He's active in his family's commercial cow-calf operation and served four years as South Dakota deputy commissioner of school and public lands.
Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer and former BEEF Managing Editor based in Whitewood, SD.