Attitude! That's how Sue Pitman, Arkansas Cattlemen's Association (ACA) membership chairman, describes her state's success in hitting a record 16,500 members for the fiscal year ending in June. For the third year, the association is the nation's largest state cattlemen's association.

"Enthusiasm is high," says Pitman. "We set a goal of 16,800 in '98; 16,900 in '99 and 20,000 in 2000."

ACA topped the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (14,000 members) and the Alabama Cattlemen's Association (13,500). Fourth is Iowa (12,300).

ACA not only tops the membership roll, but Faulkner County in central Arkansas is the world's largest county cattlemen's association with 1,350 members, says Jim Clower, ACA's executive vice president.

Alabama had been the perennial winner until about three years ago.

"They've done a tremendous job," says Billy Powell, Alabama executive vice president. "But we're getting set up to overtake them pretty soon."

Membership in Alabama has quadrupled since 1988, the year Powell attended the annual convention to divulge his state's secret of success - motivating members at the local county level.

"This is the real grassroots where the action is," Powell said. "It's the first step toward getting a statewide association established."

Arkansas producers followed the same approach. Under the leadership of successive executive vice presidents Howard Young, Mark Cowan and Clower, membership climbed each year.

Clower lists these keys to success:

* Local leadership. "Follow-up falls back to the county organization," Clower tell BEEF.

* Active allied industry representation. "We ended up with 1,754 associate members with 1,230 of them $50 associates. These include banks, feed stores and local businesses. That makes the difference between being a good-sized organization and a big one."

Alabama's Powell says "visibility" is the importance of good membership numbers. "If anyone has questions about the beef cattle industry, they have one number to call - the cattlemen's association."

Both Arkansas and Alabama have similar demographics. The average cow herd in Arkansas is 27 head, with 40% of the state's 28,000 cattle producers working off the farm. Total sales average $400 million, second to poultry.