J.D. Alexander Leading the Herd Through Example
May 7, 2012
On the Eastern side of Nebraska in Pilger lies a cattle feedyard that feeds nearly 5,000 head of cattle a day. J.D. Alexander and his son, Josh, run the operation that has been in his family for three generations.
However, this cowboy is not your average cattlemen. J.D. Alexander is the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and he leads the organization through example.
Even though serving as president is a full time job, Alexander still helps manage his family’s feedlot, Alexander Cattle and Farms. He takes care of the marketing, and buying selling, and all other financial parts of the business. Josh is responsible for the day-to-day operations.
“If you are going to be in the cattle feeding/ranching business, you really like animals. I like being around them; working the cattle, sorting them, feeding them. I enjoy all aspects. I also enjoy the buying, selling, veterinary and nutrition side of it. It’s a fascinating industry that is very rewarding. It’s fulfilling to accomplishing things,” said Alexander.
He continued, “It’s especially rewarding working with my family. I originally worked with my father and my grandfather. It’s every bit as rewarding working with my own children.”
Being in Nebraska has a lot of advantages for cattle feeders, and Alexander believes those advantages have helped the industry to be a big part of Nebraskan agriculture.
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“The location of Nebraska is very helpful to cattle feeding. We have water under the soil, and can irrigate a substantial amount of land that grows the crops that feeds the livestock. We are centrally located, so we can bring in cattle from all over. There is an abundance of the ethanol industry and we can use those byproducts. Lastly, we have great access to the packing industry. We are served by all the major packers, so we have access to markets to sell our cattle. It’s a very good, sound place to be in the cattle business,” he said.
In addition to the cattle feedyard, the family also farms 2,000 acres of corn. That part of the operation is also enjoyable to Alexander. “I like going through the seasons. We are planting corn now, then we will watch it grow and then we will harvest in the fall. I like being productive,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges that the family faces is environmental regulations. However, because Alexander believes in leading by example, he makes sure to run his business up to current standards.
“The environment regulations have caused a dramatic change in how we do things and how we are able to operate. It really takes an extreme amount of time to do what we are required to do. It has changed management, and changed my role. It takes up a big part of our time to get into compliance, and make sure we are still in compliance. It’s a full-time job just keeping track of that end,” he said.
In addition to being a full time cattlemen, Alexander also must balance his time with his duties as NCBA president. He originally joined the organization in the 1980s, and has served on several different boards for different organizations in the past. However, NCBA is an organization that has always been important to him.
“I believe in what it does and what it stand for. It is looking out for the betterment of my business. It works diligently on demand building, making sure we have demand for our product,” he said.
Two years ago Alexander came on as vice president, and last year he served as president-elect. After serving as president this year, he will have one more year on the board as the immediate past president.
“I believe that every profession has its professional organization that helps them out. I was a participant, and just felt that they represented me very well and so I wanted to do more. I’ve always felt that I do express myself well, and I thought I could help others,” Alexander said.
The way that he feels he can help the most is to help cattlemen get their voices herd. He believes that, “If you aren’t at the table you are on the menu.” This philosophy has allowed him to really focus on helping cattlemen to be at the table.
One of the ways that he does this is by attending functions, meetings and conventions all across the country to promote and educate people about beef.
“The number one thing is that we produce the best, safest meat in the world. Number two is that it is corn fed beef, which gives us a uniqueness there that creates the marbling in the beef. It’s also a great source of protein. There is an ever increasing demand for protein, and we will see more demand in the future,” he said.
He continued, “We are always trying to promote beef and find new, better ways to promote our product or create a bigger demand.”
The other part of his job is to educate people about truth within beef production. “The other thing we have seen that is important is issues management. It has been on the top of our minds the last month with the information about finely textured lean beef and the BSE case. We need to get the truth and the messages out there. Today’s age with social media, it really goes like wildfire across the country, and it’s not always the truth. The challenge is for us to put the message out of the truth and put sound science out there and overcome the emotional part,” he said.
Another part of what NCBA does is to travel to Washington D.C. to educate policy makers on beef and beef production. “We need to have a voice in D.C. so we don’t have bad regulations that hurt the industry. It seems that all too often lately that we have outlandish regulations that are trying to be passed,” he said.
He added, “An example is the child labor law. It would have really put a hindrance on the next generation, and teaching and training them. We are also watching what happens with the estate tax. If nothing is done, it reverts back to the $1 million exemption. Anything over that would be taxed at 55 percent. It will nearly make it impossible for the next generation to take over farms, feedlots and ranches.”
The last part of Alexander’s job is to work with the other officers to make sure the leadership of NCBA does its job for the members. “I lead the officer team, the exec committee and the board of directors. Our other ultimate goal is to make sure we put together a CEO that runs the business side of our structure. The CEO answers to the officers and the exec committee,” he said.
NCBA works with the 45 states that have qualified state beef councils to promote beef and educate consumers. Beef check-off dollars are used to do research, solve safety issues, create beef demand and work on foreign marketing.
“We are also looking to demand building, and looking out to make sure cattlemen have a business climate that allows me to operate in the best of my ability.”
However, the most important part of what he does is to make sure the cattlemen are heard, and to lead through example. “The point is, we have got to have our voice herd, and that’s the main thing that NCBA does. We are promoting the product and having our voice herd in local counties, states, across the nation and literally around the world,” he said.