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Bob McCan has a long history behind him of beef industry advocacy. That will reach its full potential this year as he leads the nation’s beef industry as president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Another part of McCan’s passion for the industry is the need to help young producers get started in the industry, and get them involved in industry organizations early on. That will benefit the industry in many ways, he says.
NCBA already has risen to the challenge. “We have a Young Producers’ Council, we have the Masters of Beef Advocacy program, we have the Young Cattlemen’s Conference trip and a lot of different activities for our younger members,” he says. “I think that’s going to help us develop a good core group of young leaders who are going to be able to transmit the messages about our industry better than some of the old guard can.”
That’s important, he says, because he views younger producers as the most important group within the industry — for several reasons. “They’re going to be the group that can relate to the millennial consumers,” he says. That’s the segment of consumers with birth years from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
More importantly, they’re a group of producers with lots of ideas, lots of passion and lots of energy. “We’ve got a lot of producers in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and they’re very capable folks. And I think they have a very good feel for what needs to be done as far as changes to improve the industry,” he says. “They are the key influencers we have in the industry, and we’ve got to make sure they are part of everything we do.”
But first, they have to have an opportunity to get started and be profitable. “With the good markets we’re enjoying right now and the advancements we’ve made with our export markets, I think it’s going to create some really great opportunities for our industry,” he says. “And I think we’ve got something we haven’t had for a long time — there are young folks thinking there are going to be opportunities for them. Hopefully we can retain some of these younger producers.”
To that end, he says NCBA can play an important role. “If there are some things we can do to encourage people to get involved in the industry, we need to look at that. I think about possible programs all the time, and maybe we can encourage USDA or some private groups to put forth some programs that will provide a little help.”
The industry going forward
One thing McCan is sure about, as he peers into the industry’s future, is that activist groups will only become more strident, more sophisticated and more outspoken. How, he wonders, will producers find the resources to respond?
“There are so many things coming at us so fast, not only from activists groups but with changing consumer sentiment,” he says. “We desperately need additional resources to combat a lot of things that are coming. I would hope that’s something we can accomplish in the next year or two.”
Those additional resources can come from several places. One is the industry’s ability to squeeze every bit of good from every checkoff dollar. There, both NCBA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board have made some hard and difficult decisions. NCBA leaders responded by reducing staff and asking the organization to operate more tightly and efficiently. It was a hard decision, he says, but adds that he thinks “it was the responsible thing for NCBA to do.”
But belt-tightening only gets you so far. “We’re committed to enhancing the checkoff,” he says of NCBA’s leadership team. “Going forward, I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to do the things we need to do to promote our product, and do the research and innovation we need without additional resources,” he says.
He thinks the industry is ready to increase the checkoff assessment. Some states, in fact, have already made that move. “We are working very hard to get buy-in from the rest of the industry,” he says. “But it has to be a unified vision. Everyone has to be in alignment.”
He plans to help position NCBA as an even better resource for the industry. “One of my big focuses as an officer has been our state-national partners, and our partnerships with our state affiliates and state beef councils,” he says. “I’d really like to continue to improve and build on this relationship.”
McCan appreciates the support he’s had from his family and employees who have shouldered the responsibility of keeping the ranches running while he travels on NCBA business. And he feels good about the beef industry and NCBA’s place in it.
“I’m excited about the officer team we have assembled,” he says. “We have some really great people on our volunteer team, and we have a staff that is dedicated and passionate about the industry. We’re operating a lot leaner, but also a lot more efficiently and effectively. I’m very excited about that, and I think we’re going to see some good things come from it.”
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