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Scott George wears a lot of hats. Come February, the dairyman and beef producer will don that of NCBA president.
Tithing the industry
The 58-year-old George is disarmingly genial, a description you commonly hear about him. Alexander adds that he’s also a careful decision maker. “He really strives to understand any situation or item before making a decision,” Alexander says.
George sees his volunteer involvement as his “tithe” to his chosen profession. It’s not a surprising analogy once you understand the role that faith plays in this devout Mormon’s life.
“When I was asked by my church to serve as a missionary for two years as a 19-year-old college student, I saw it as a tithing of my life – a 10% tithe, as the Bible calls for. I spent two years doing volunteer work and it was about being of service to other people. That’s what I think about NCBA; it’s about giving service to your industry, and NCBA is a service organization.”
George says he’s been involved in volunteer association work for the past 30 years. His volunteer efforts began with the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, but his fervor really took off as a member of the Wyoming Beef Council (WBC).
“In 1991, I was asked to serve on the WBC as a dairy rep, and I really learned what the beef checkoff was accomplishing. In attending the national meetings, I became very aware of the great coordination and effectiveness of the state and national promotion efforts.
“There are things we just can’t do at the state level, like nutrition research, but we can carry that message back to the influencers in our state. I was just amazed by what I saw being done on the national level in beef promotion, safety, research and advertising, the whole deal.”
As a director, then vice chairman, and eventually chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils, he says he was able to associate with producers from all segments of the industry, becoming more and more aware of the policy realm in the process.
“I saw firsthand what this organization was doing for all beef producers at the national level on the policy side, and I believe it’s a very vital role for our industry to have.”
George is aware of a “we vs. them” mentality between some beef and dairy producers. Though regular surveys indicate the majority of dairy producers approve of the work of the beef checkoff, some chafe at the $1/head assessment they feel is inordinately high given the relatively low market value of a young dairy calf. For dairy producers, it’s a cost that comes on top of a dairy promotion assessment of 15¢/cwt. of milk marketed, which George says amounts to about $35/cow/year in his family dairy operation.
Meanwhile, on the beef cattle side, producers lament the black eye the greater beef industry has suffered as a result of a spate of sensational videos depicting downer dairy cows.
“Many of these issues regarding videos do revolve around dairy cattle, but you can’t make a blanket assumption that it’s the dairyman’s fault,” George says. “The Hallmark abuse case in California, for instance, happened six months prior to the video release. We don’t know if the animal was weak at the time she was sold, or was injured in transport. Perhaps some cattle jockey bought the cow, didn’t feed her for three days, thus weakening her before dropping her off to be processed.”
He says the industry has worked, and must continue working, together on these challenges in order to build a stronger overall industry. He points to NCBA’s work as a checkoff contractor in helping develop and distribute a list of best management practices for handling cull dairy cattle as an example.
“At NCBA we don’t set policy; we don’t decide about checkoff programs. We listen to our state affiliates; they define the issues and we ask what we can do on a national level working together to try to help address the issue. By the same token on promotion efforts, we strive to talk to the consumer first about their concerns and then work to address them. That’s what we’ve been doing all these years.”
He says he’s discouraged by talk that one sector is favored over another.
“We’re dealing with a multitude of issues in Washington, D.C. – antibiotic use in livestock, industry and environmental sustainability, disease traceback, trade, etc. Every one of those issues impact our producers, whether they are cow-calf or feedlot, stocker or dairy.”
George says the industry must unite and be proactive in addressing a multitude of issues. “Trying to operate in a bubble doesn’t work anymore. Our industry is so impacted today by so many issues – political and economic – and there’s a limited amount of influence we can have.”
He says a unified industry voice is needed, but folks in the country can’t afford to be sit back.
“We need input and testimony from producers who live it every day; if we don’t do that, we’re going to get buried. Our enemies would love to see the cattle industry gone; we don’t have the luxury of not speaking up. And one of our best tools is cattle producers themselves.”