Craig Uden from Nebraska is the new president of the NCBA | TheFencePost.com
Rachel Spencer

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Craig Uden from Nebraska is the new president of the NCBA

Recently elected National Cattlemen's Beef Association President, Craig Uden, is leading the organization with a lifetime of experience in the cattle industry under his belt and a passion for research and education.

Hailing from Elwood, Neb., Uden is a partner in Darr Feedlot, Inc., a commercial cattle feeding operation in south central Nebraska. Additionally, he and his wife, Terri, own and manage three commercial cow-calf operations.

Uden began Darr Feedlot in the early 1980s and grew it to its present 45,000-head capacity before stepping down from the day-to-day operations though he continues to procure and market cattle and serve customers.

Uden's involvement in producer organizations has included the state, regional and national levels through his involvement with policy and the Beef Checkoff. He served the Beef Council for eight years before working on the Checkoff Operating Committee and then returning to the policy side through his involvement in the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association.

“Trade is a big issue and trade is something we’re going to continue to work on because we need to have trade if we’re going to increase the numbers and the amount of protein we’re producing in the beef sector as well as our competing proteins such as pork and poultry.”

A cow-calf man at heart, Uden has a heart for research. Marketing research, he said, is particularly valuable to know what the issues are. After all, he said, you can't change what you can't measure. Tackling issues to improve the producers' situations is often the goal. Marketing research allows the limited dollars available through the checkoff to be carefully targeted to affect producers' bottom lines and, likewise, it allows those who dictate policy to know what they have influence over and what they do not to allow them to make the most efficient use of their time and efforts.

"We're always working on trade," he said. "Trade is a big issue and trade is something we're going to continue to work on because we need to have trade if we're going to increase the numbers and the amount of protein we're producing in the beef sector as well as our competing proteins such as pork and poultry."

Trade is the key to not only marketing the growing amount of protein produced but also to grow the profits and price for producers.

"We continuously need to have a market for those products if we want to grow our industry," he said. "We have to grow the profits and price for producers because 96 percent of the people live outside of the continental United States."

Uden explained many emerging countries have rapidly growing Gross Domestic Products and a growing demand for more protein in their diets.

"We have the opportunity to either fill those needs or let somebody else," he said.

OTHER MARKETS

Exports allow producers to garner more value from each carcass by exporting many of the cuts like tripe and tongue that are less popular stateside, to countries who covet those cuts. Finding markets outside U.S. borders is critical, he said. The NCBA supports the Trans Pacific Partnership and doesn't agree with the elimination of the TPP but they are ready to work with the administration to evaluate the bilateral agreements.

"They've made the statement they're more interested in bilateral agreements so we'll stay very engaged with this current administration and look for opportunities to work with them to facilitate trade with a country like Japan," he said. "Japan and the U.S. were very big partners in the TPP so we look forward to working with them in a bilateral agreement. Japan is one of our top three trading partners and they work within the WTO so there's a lot of benefit."

The Japanese, he said, like American beef and they tend to import many higher value cuts, making trade agreements mutually beneficial and important to U.S. beef producers.

As he takes the reins of the NCBA, Uden has clear priorities surrounding education and producer involvement.

"We want to keep educating about the issues that are out there," he said. "There are a lot of sound bites out there but you have to go into some depth and understand."

The farm bill, trade, and other issues that weight heavily on the minds of cattlemen are all complicated. Without laying a solid foundation to thoroughly understand the issues, he said, it is more difficult to address them.

Involvement, much in the way Uden's involvement has spanned state and national groups, is something he hopes to encourage.

"I want producers to understand the issues that affect them," he said. "I want them to dig in and understand how it affects them short term and long term."

ADDRESSING OVERREACH

Regulation overreach on both private and federal lands is also under Uden's watchful eye. He wants to avoid blanket regulations that force landowners and producers from operating as they see fit.

"I would like to see them all be involved," he said. "This is grassroots and the local organizations bring issues to the state and the state to the national. Those concerns are vetted and not only vetted, but they try to find solutions, tackle those issues and find solutions and direction to take back to the producers."

Uden is quick to point out the uniqueness of the cow and how, at the end of the day, produces beef to be at the center of the plate. Although regional differences and challenges may dominate the attention of producers, ultimately cattle are the animal best suited to utilize the land resources available and produce the protein on American dinner tables.

Uden grew up in southeast central Nebraska on a diversified cattle feeding and row crop operation. After graduating from the University of Nebraska with a degree in animal science, Uden returned to the area to establish Darr Feedlot, Inc.

"We built this from scratch," he said. "We started with about 1,500 head and we've worked it up to about 45,000."

Uden works closely with producers throughout Nebraska and the surrounding states who opt to participate in retained ownership programs through Darr.

Uden, current NCBA president, has previously served as the President-elect, Policy Division Chairman and Federation Division Chairman. He has been involved in a number of functions on a local and state basis, including past chairman and elder of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lexington, Neb., member and past chair of the Dawson County Cattlemen and a 4-H leader. Along with serving on the Nebraska Beef Council, Uden has served on the Nebraska Cattlemen's board of directors as a committee chairman and vice chairman, the Nebraska Cattlemen's Research & Education Foundation, and involved in Nebraska Feedlot Council. He is also a member of Nebraska Ag Builders and sits on the Foundation Board of Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity. ❖

— Spencer is a freelance writer from Wiggins, Colo., where she and her family raise cattle and show goats. She can be reached at rachelspencermedia@gmail.com or on Facebook at Rachel Spencer Media.