Cow-calf operators are the industry’s lifeblood because without their efforts, there would be no beef industry.
I have a New Year’s confession to make. I have finally succumbed to social media and started a Facebook account. My resistance was until now, I admit, slightly “Luddite-ish” (if there’s such a word), as I felt I had no need to connect with family and friends this way. I grew up in an era of letter-writing, so email and telephone conversations were good enough for me.
What changed my mind? My kids, of course. Two of them live some distance away, and we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. So, they opened a Facebook account for me to usher in 2013.
It’s marvelous; we’ve shared thoughts and photos (especially wonderful as my son and his wife have been traveling in India). Even more fun is connecting with friends in the beef industry and seeing that they appear to be aging even more gracefully than me.
All this set me thinking as to how the U.S. beef industry is like a huge family. It has many members spread all over the continent (and Hawaii, of course). The family squabbles from time to time and sometimes seems to waste energy on pointless issues, but everyone is dedicated to raising the finest cattle and producing the best beef they can.
Such a focus will be needed even more this year and in the coming years, as cattle numbers remain tight and margins meager. I have no doubt that the beef family will work together even more to provide Americans with the safest, most nutritious beef possible at a price they can afford.
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This will mean recognizing that each family member, from producer to packer to retailer and restaurateur, has a vital role to play; each sector is dependent on the other for its success. It will mean an even more intense focus on consumers and the demand side of the market. This means that the work of those who promote beef will be even more important, as will the wisest possible use of dwindling beef checkoff dollars.
If I had a wish for 2013 in this regard, it would be to raise the checkoff dues to $2 or even $3/head. The current $1/head isn’t just worth far less than that in real terms, it’s far less than what other top beef-producing countries, notably Australia, raise per head to promote beef.
Promotion is one of several vital roles supported by the checkoff. Its dollars also support efforts as diverse as researching new beef cuts and countering arguments by those who say Americans should eat less beef for health reasons. The latter is one area where the industry and individuals have made great use of social media like Twitter and YouTube.
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Take my friend Suzanne Strassburger. Her family has long been one of the top beef suppliers to some of New York City’s finest steakhouses, but she’s taken her role in the business to a whole new level. Strassburger uses social media to promote beef and help consumers understand the industry, partly through her website and her line of Suzy Sirloin® (her nickname, incidentally) branded products aimed at in-home chefs. She is a tireless advocate for the industry because her family has been in business for five generations, and she recognizes the value of being part of and working with the wider beef family.
At the other end of the industry are the tens of thousand of families who run the nursery. Cow-calf operators are the industry’s lifeblood because without their efforts, there would be no beef industry. Right now, many of these folk are battling drought. Another of my wishes for 2013 is that their cows and calves all make it through the winter and that spring rains are abundant in cow-calf country.
Steve Kay is editor and publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly (www.cattlebuyersweekly.com). See his weekly cattle market roundup each Friday afternoon at beefmagazine.com.