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Angus Productions Inc.
Copyright © 2011
Angus Journal

The Solution Will Come From Within

Keynote speaker Tom Field tells Angus producers to look in the mirror for solutions to the industry's problems.


by Katie Gazda for Angus Productions Inc.


ATHENS, Ga. (Sept. 6, 2011) — Tom Field, executive director of producer education for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), kicked off a full schedule at the 2011 National Angus Conference & Tour (NAC&T) Sept 6-8 in Athens, Ga.


“It’s always an honor to have a chance to spend time with the people who feed not only this country, but the world," Field noted as he began. "I’m honored and humbled to be here.”


Bruce Vincent

Tom Field

Field addressed the attendees of the conference on planning for the future of the cattle industry. Despite the recent trials faced by the industry, he said, he remains confident in the direction that it is heading.


“I’m here to say that there is going to be a future. There is a future,” he declared.


If the audience took away from his presentation only one thing, Field said he hoped that it would be the information shared on the first and last slides of his PowerPoint. The first slide, he said, explained who we, as caretakers of the cattle industry, are. The last slide reminded us of why we can not, under any circumstance, quit.


So who are we? Field showed numbers from the Cattlemen’s Stewardship Report outlining our industry and it’s people. It indicated 97% of us are family farmers or ranchers, and 54% of our farms have been in the same family for three or more generations. A quarter of us have served in the military, and 94% of us vote. We are volunteers and activists.


Our passion for the industry is what will keep the industry alive, he noted.


“We have very real challenges in front of us, but they are solvable. There is always a solution. We just have to find the solution,” Field said, adding that it is our responsibility to find the solutions.


Field asked the audience the same question his farm manager had asked him and his brother when their operation faced adversity: “Are we going to put on our big boy pants today or not?”


Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once said, “The only thing that endures over time is the law of the farm: I must prepare the ground, put in the seed, cultivate it, weed it, water it, then gradually nurture growth and development to full maturity. There is no quick fix.”


Similarly, Field said, there is no quick fix to the determining the future of the cattle industry and planning for that future.


Field noted that government overreach is one of the largest issues facing cattlemen today. The federal government decided it is going to spend more time in our business than we invited them to, he said. In a society where the unemployment rate is at its highest, employment at government agencies is up 13% and regulatory budgets are up 16%.


“We have to rein this train in before it wrecks," Field emphasized. "In this nation, the government is the people. We are the government. We get what we vote in. We get what we are willing to tolerate,” he said.


Even those who don't like politics and the political world need to be involved, Field said. “You don’t have to be political. You do, though, need to stand up in your local communities and advocate for self-accountability.”


Field drew attention to three macro issues of concern:

• the shrinking number of producers;

• the erosion of agricultural research and educational infrastructure; and
• access to technologies and freedom of choice.

Similarly, as an industry, we cannot afford to lose independent rural banks, industry infrastructure (including veterinarians, feedyards, etc.) and healthy regional and local economies and communities.


Field agreed with Jeff Simmons of Elanco when he said that there are definite things that we must get right about food production. These include ensuring the human right of access to affordable food; protecting all consumers’ rights to spend their food budget on the widest variety; and creating an environmentally right, sustainable food production system.


“Give the consumer value and they will stay with it. It’s that simple,” Field said. Today’s consumer wants the same thing they did 20 years ago: taste, quality and price. The Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) brand is right on track. It experienced its single largest sales month in June 2011.


Growing success in the marketplace and increasing consumer satisfaction are not the only positive outcomes the industry has seen lately.


“We have some great opportunities. The cow-calf business has been good enough in the past three years that even three cavemen — my two brothers and I — can do it,” Field said. “We’re going to grow. Why? Because the opportunity is there. We’re more energized than we’ve ever been before about the business. But we also know that volatility reigns.”


“Volatility is the new normal. It’s just the reality,” he predicted. “Volatility is going to be part of your existence and everyday experience for the foreseeable future in markets, trade agreements, finding help, dealing with federal government, competing for access to land and resources. Volatility is part of the game.”


Field concluded his presentation with a challenge to the audience. He challenged them to figure out what makes them unique, to join together and then to step up to the plate to become leaders within the industry in order to preserve the future of their livelihoods.


“If we’re looking to leadership to get us out of the mess we’re in, then turn and look at the person to your right and to the person at your left. When you get the opportunity, look in the mirror. That’s where the leadership will come from to solve this problem," he emphasized.


“As long as we pull for the business and pull for rural families, then we’re all in this together," Field said. "There aren’t many of us left. We can’t afford to fight each other. At the end of the day we better be willing to raise each other’s barn. Leadership doesn’t belong out there. It belongs in here.”



Editor’s Note: This article was written by staff or under contract for Angus Productions Inc. (API). It may not be reprinted without the express permission of API. If you would like to reprint or repost this article, you must first request permission by contacting the editor at 816-383-5200; 3201 Frederick Ave., Saint Joseph, MO 64506. API claims copyright to this web site as presented. We welcome educational venues and cattlemen to link to this site as a service to their audience.