Cattlemen get a gate-to-plate view in YCC
Jake Feddes, a Montana cattle producer, participated in the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Young Cattleman’s Conference. The 10-day trip begins in Denver, moves to Chicago, and ends in Washington D.C., essentially touching on every aspect of the production chain and policy.
Feddes was chosen to chair next year’s trip and said he returned to Montana with newfound knowledge and experience.
John Robinson, NCBA’s vice president, membership and communications, said the trip is an opportunity for individuals involved in all different segments of the industry — the trip included cow calf producers, feeders, and members of allied industries, among others — to have a gate-to-plate look at the industry and walk away with an understanding of the complexities of the operating systems.
Beyond the education, Robinson said it is a leadership training to support young producers who will likely assume leadership roles in their state associations and ultimately at the national level.
While at the NCBA office, Feddes said he was struck by the Digital Control Center. Staffed with only a few, the center monitors media, the internet and social media for news and posts that could be damaging to the industry.
“All the work they’re doing behind the scenes, no one even knows,” he said. “To quiet those things when something false comes out. We were in D.C. when the Fair Oaks animal abuse case came out that morning and those ladies were on it instantly, ensuring it wouldn’t come back to beef.”
Robinson said there was discussion about the Fair Oaks video and dealing with extremists and said the NCBA’s stance is echoed throughout the industry.
“The industry will not tolerate bad actors, and those responsible for these types of actions should be punished to the full extent of the law,” Robinson said.
The group also visited Five Rivers and JBS, two operations Feddes said were impressive both in scale and efficiency. Five Rivers Feedyard has a capacity of about 980,000 head and the Greeley JBS plant is one of the largest beef packing and processing plants. The group also visited the flagship Safeway store in south Denver to learn and talk about merchandising and marketing of products.
Robinson said the beef industry tends to have experts in single sectors who benefit from gaining an understanding of other sectors.
“It’s easy to throw rocks when you don’t understand what the link in the chain above or below you is doing,” he said. “It’s pretty easy for cattle feeders to get upset about calves they buy that aren’t in the exact condition they want them in or easy to throw rocks at the packers when they’re making money and other segments aren’t. The fact of the matter is we all rely on one another and it’s important to have that reminder every once in a while.”
Kahla Mills, a fifth generation commercial cattle producer from Gilette, Wyo., said she was excited for the opportunity to become familiar with the sectors beyond the pasture on her cow calf operation. She said she was impressed with the volume processed at JBS and was pleased to meet several representatives while the group was in D.C.
“I really enjoyed McDonald’s, meeting with corporate, and understanding how much volume goes through McDonald’s and how much of that is beef,” she said.
The policy portion of the trip was Feddes’ favorite and he said he was able to meet two of his representatives. He went to the office of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but said he was told she was too busy to meet with him.
“That’s one thing I realized when we were there,” he said. “Even though a lot of the representatives and senators come from districts that don’t have any agriculture, they all forget they have to have agriculture to eat.”
Among the topics that were discussed were tariffs and trade negotiations that have proven difficult for producers. In D.C., Kent Bacus, NCBA’s director of international trade and market access, addressed the group about world markets.
“We support President Trump and what he’s trying to do, but it is increasingly hard to take it on the chin as he’s negotiating those things,” he said. “It was helpful for them to have Kent’s perspective and the perspective they got at JBS about what the world market looks like and how all these things come to fruition.”
Feddes said he heard about the trip from fellow producers who had attended. Each state is allowed one participant, though some larger states are allowed a second if a smaller state doesn’t send someone. Feddes lives near Manhattan, Mont., and operates a family purebred cattle operation. The ranch began raising registered Herefords in 1945, moving to Red Angus in 1991. The ranch is now all Red Angus and markets about 130 bulls annually in addition to a female sale in December.
The Young Cattlemen’s Conference makes stops in Denver at Cattle Fax, the NCBA office, JBS and Five Rivers Feedyard. In Chicago, the tour makes stops at the Chicago Board of Trade and OSI, Inc., one of the nation’s largest beef patty manufacturers. Attendees could even be found flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s Hamburger University.
“I’m not sure that any of us made a perfect Quarter Pounder even after some pretty good instruction,” Robinson said. “We don’t sometimes think about how some teenaged kid is behind the counter selling our product and they need to have that understanding, even at the cheeseburger level, how important those food service workers are.”
Fake meat discussions abounded throughout the trip and Robinson said it was a topic virtually at every stop. While he said nobody liked some of the answers they heard, it’s good for them to understand the perspective of some of the companies engaging in that marketplace and why they’re doing it. Robinson said fake meat is a concern in terms of correct labeling but beef’s main competitor remains poultry.
In Washington, D.C., attendees met with representatives as well as regulatory agencies that make decisions affecting agriculture. ❖