This week Riley and I attended the 2011 Range Beef Cow Symposium in Scottsbluff, NE. The symposium is a bi-annual 3-day event that brings together beef producers from South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado, and features guest speakers and discussions on the latest topics affecting the beef industry. This was the second time Riley and I attended the symposium and we left with a lot to think about on the way home.
Sometimes we forget (and by we I mean everyone in most industries) that what we are doing has a very significant impact on not only our country, but the entire world. Studies show that currently one-sixth of the world’s population does not get enough to eat every day. And that’s not just in developing countries. One in every five children in the United States is hungry. On top of that, it is predicted that by the year 2050, the world will need 100% more food than it does now. Which means that food production is going to need to substantially increase. .. meaning efficiency needs to increase. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that the beef industry already has the technology to increase efficiency and increase production. The problem is the restrictions the government has put on using the technology. Everyone wants their beef to be “natural” and free of any growth-enhancing hormones, etc.
Trent Loost spoke about how he has handled people who approach him wanting to know what he thinks about the fact that young girls today are reaching puberty 24 months earlier than their grandmothers did, and they wonder what ‘cowboys’ like him are feeding their cattle to make this happen. Trent explains to them that maybe it could be the 1.3 nanograms of estrogen that are in 3 oz. of beef harvested from an animal that has been fed no supplemental hormone, or maybe it could be the 1.9 nanograms of estrogen that are in 3 oz. of beef from an animal that was supplemented. OR, maybe it could be because of the 225 nanograms of estrogen found in 3 oz. of potatoes, or the 2700 nanograms in 4 oz. of cabbage, OR the 35,000 nanograms in one low-dose birth control pill. Trent then goes on to tell them how birth control pills are made (if you don’t know, they’re mostly horse urine).
Another issue people have with beef is in the number of nitrates it contains. But again, there are way more nitrates in vegetables than there are in beef.
Of course there are also people who have issues with the way beef cattle are raised because it’s inhumane, and as Mr. Loost suggested we need to pay more attention to the way we speak about what we do. For example, we shouldn’t slaughter cattle, instead we should ‘harvest’ them. Trent tells another good airport story, in which he was on the phone with his wife who was at home taking care of the ranch while he was on the road giving presentations. Trent’s side of the conversation went something like this: “Did we have any more kids?…Triplets? That’s great!”
Mr. Loost’s presentation was very entertaining, but he made so many valid points that we, as ag producers, need to stick together to protect our industry and essentially keep the world supplied with food. We need to use the technology available to us to be able to reduce our costs of production and increase efficiency, but we also need to all become advocates that speak against all of the misinformation that is out there.
Most of you have probably never heard of Golden Rice. I hadn’t. This modified strain of rice was created by Swiss researchers in 1999. It contains beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. (Vitamin A deficiency is a serious public health problem around the world, contributing to as many as 3 million preventable deaths among children every year.) The inventors of golden Rice were prepared to provide free licenses for farmers in developing nations to plant, grow, sell and replant the grain at will… until the EU banned Golden Rice because it is a GMO (genetically modified organism), despite the fact that 57 countries have already approved the planting or import of biotech crops or products derived from them. It has been estimated that since 2002 more than a quarter million deaths due to hunger and starvation could have been avoided if Golden Rice had been approved for use.
The European Union has historically had an extreme viewpoint when it comes to matters of food production, but the US has not been far behind. The US Department of Labor, right now, is trying to push new child labor laws that would not allow children to help on their family farms and ranches.
That being said, another topic that was discussed and presented on at this year’s symposium was how to transition the family farm/ranch to the next generation. It’s not as easy as it used to be because, again, the government has a much bigger say in how things are done than they used to.
On the upside, despite increased government regulation, it seems like it has been a really long time since the cattle market looked so promising.
This picture was used in Todd Thrift’s presentation on preconditioning beef calves prior to sale, to demonstrate the fact that you can’t always get the same gain without putting in the same effort. Whether it’s preconditioning or something else, though, the beef industry is just like any other. If you want to get ahead in the industry you need to do something that sets you apart from everyone else.
The next Range Beef Cow Symposium will be in Rapid City in 2013. It’s something I’d encourage anyone in the beef industry to attend.