Colorado producers introduce Better with Beef campaign with governor in attendance
The svelte black Suburban rolled into the parking lot in Denver and the cattle producers, all in the shadows cast by the tractors and bull racks, washed to a showroom shine, all looked up and quieted their conversations about fall work, cattle prices and high school football.
Flanked by staff and security, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis made his way toward the crowd, shaking hands with trade organization and industry leaders while smoke from the grill circled above the crowd.
The crowd was a representative slice of cattle production in Colorado, with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, former Commissioners of Agriculture Don Ament and Don Brown, Sen. Don Coram, and current Commissioner Kate Greenberg, among them.
Ament began the program and said he has watched the topography of the Front Range change during his time in Colorado with the metro area teaming with people and only 1 percent involved in production agriculture. Ament said he would rather people learn about their food from the people who produce it rather than through social media, and welcomed the members of the press, though the major Denver stations were notably scarce.
Ament said Colorado agriculture contributes $40 million in economic activity, employs 173,000 people, and does that with 34,000 farms and ranches.
“What makes the agriculture budget so big?” he said. “It’s cattle. Cattle is the big deal, first place in Colorado.”
Ament recognized the dairy, corn and hay industries’ roles within the beef industry that, together, make it possible for Coloradoans to spend less than 7 percent of household disposable income on groceries.
“Those people who are our consumers get to choose a lot of things about us,” Ament said. “It’s how we farm, it’s how we feed cattle, and they forget about animal husbandry and biotech and nutrition. They forget about the things that make us produce enough not only for this state but the nation. Those are the things we need to be able to tell.”
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a cattle producer from Sterling, Colo., thanked the producers who traveled to Denver for the meeting. In Sonnenberg’s Senate district, he said, cattle outnumber people, 10 to one.
“The demand for beef continues to grow, not only in Colorado, not only in the United States, but especially worldwide,” Sonnenberg said. “Why does it grow? Because people like the value they get and they like the taste of beef.”
Beef, Sonnenberg said, isn’t a partisan issue or a partisan conversation, but a conversation about what producers provide as the second largest industry and economic driver in the state.
Gov. Polis, who spoke next, said the state’s economy is the envy of the nation with the flagship industry being ag. He said succession and new producers remain a focus of Commissioner Greenberg and the Department of Agriculture, to ensure ag continues to grow in the future.
“Colorado cattlemen have been at the forefront of conservation efforts, one of our great, untold stories and an important legacy of the state, feeding the people of Colorado and our world, and of course, supporting the people who work in farming and ranching,” Polis said.
Polis said ranching is important to Colorado’s heritage and identity above and beyond the industry’s multi-billion-dollar contribution to the economy. As governor, Polis said he continues to work to find new markets for beef exports, including Taiwan, continues to protect farmers and ranchers from trade policies that close markets, and promoting Colorado products and investing in producers.
“It also means supporting a broader rural agenda that supports our rural communities that are home to many of our cattle-producing operations, including investing in rural broadband and decreasing healthcare costs,” he said.
Polis said he should address the thing he said likely resulted in his invitation to the event, tasting a plant-based burger as he said U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue and Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Terry Fankhauser both did prior to him.
“In talking about ranching and beef being above partisan politics, I think that it’s important to note that of course forward-looking leaders need to be aware of trends in markets,” he said.
He said, “we want to make sure we produce the best damn beef in Colorado and grow and expand markets for Colorado ranchers and we’re going to do everything we can to get that done.”
He said Colorado’s beef industry is too important to fall victim to a political food fight and the focus should remain on growth.
“I know that in any industry we have a choice,” he said. “We can either be scared of what the future brings or we can find a way to make the future work for us and I know that working with cattlemen and working with our beef producers, we can find a way to make the future work for Colorado ranchers.”
Polis said adapting to consumer demand is necessary and said producers can either view that as a threat or an opportunity. Capitalizing on an opportunity, like a growing grass fed beef demand, he said, can result in a premium and reward ranchers for their hard work and foresight.
“I’m confident that by working together we can grow our ag sector, grow our beef sector, open up new markets to grown in Colorado, raised in Colorado produce, and set ourselves up for short-term and long-term success,” he said.
Polis joked that he had really just attended for the free burger and was brought a Colorado beef burger, grilled by members of the Yuma County Cattlemen’s Association. Colorado Livestock Association president Mike Veeman and CCA president Steve Wooten presented Polis with a bag filled with beef jerky.
Veeman spoke about misleading labeling and advertising campaigns that confuse consumers about products and the industry’s sustainability. He said the Better with Beef campaign, a joint effort between the Colorado Livestock Association and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, will share information with consumers like the mere 3.3 percent of greenhouse gases attributable to the livestock industry.
Wooten, a Kim, Colo., rancher said consumers are increasingly engaged with where their food comes from and the goal of the Better with Beef campaign is to provide consumers with accurate information and addressing societal, environmental and economic demands.
“The greatest challenge of our time is going to be feeding a growing population and we’re going to do that through high density nutritious food and beef is that food,” he said.
Wooten said American beef producers are lucky to have a vibrant industry and a product so widely sought out across the world.
“Nothing should stop or impede Colorado producers from doing what they do best, producing healthy beef off of range and farms,” he said. “At the same time, Coloradoans will be made beneficiaries of this marvelous, upcycling wonder.”
Yuma County cattle producer Kenny Rogers said he was pleased to see the governor attend the event and was hoping to hear him pledge future dialogue with producers when decisions are made that will impact the industry.
“I felt like we pretty much got that, if not, he sure as heck alluded to it,” Rogers said.
Several weeks ago, he said, there was no communication between Polis and cattle producer groups, so progress has been made. Rogers said he’s hopeful Commissioner Greenberg will be a more vocal defender of the industry moving forward and more aggressive in the role of educating the governor and legislators about large scale production agriculture. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.