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Challenges and success for the next generation

Progressive Cattle Editor David Cooper Published on 25 July 2019

The continuing discussion about making the beef cattle industry sustainable is usually focused on improving land, water, feed and cattle. But rarely does the debate focus on the industry’s most critical resource: people.

Making beef producers sustainable will require new ideas and proven tradition. The next generation of ranchers must balance both effectively. And yet, they will be more alert, efficient and adaptable than previous generations.

Most producers are over age 60, but the generational shift is coming. Here are some predictions for the cattle business I expect the next-generation producer to fluently understand.

Customer demand drives market

While many producers are spooked by lab-grown or plant-based protein sources, the next generation will accept them as something customers want. Those same producers will find effective ways to compete against them and profit. Beef’s dietary and culinary benefits will push demand domestically and globally. Producers will use technology to raise and market beef to those demands swiftly and effectively.

Open doors and open trade

Each year, we know producers grow more cognizant of how vital export trade is to the price of beef. The ability to sell beef must expand beyond domestic markets, especially those with a greater middle class. China leads that category more than any other partner. We need to balance protectionist interests to fulfill that growth.

Survival beyond land leases

Simply put, if there’s no land to graze, the industry will be forced to improvise. New producers either must inherit land access or ownership, or lease acres. And the suburban growth is infringing on those acres. So creativity, much like Alex Wiese of Nebraska has used on a drylot system you can learn about from our cover story in this issue, will help determine younger producers’ ability to succeed.

Transparency in production

Yet another recent activist video has tarred the animal livestock industry, and it won’t be the last. Transparent production is the way to defeat it. Temple Grandin’s wisdom that we produce and process our food like it’s in an open building visible to everyone will continue to be the standard with merit. I expect future producers will be more comfortable following it.

Declining antibiotic use

The cultural shift that leads ideas from unthinkable to acceptable and then to public policy (experts call this the Overton Window) is defining the issue of antibiotic use in livestock. Whether by customer demand or regulatory force, producers in the future will know where antibiotic use is defensible, and where it’s not, and then adapt production wisely to satisfy that demand.

If you’re reading through those ideas and find them threatening, or capitulating to the opposition, therein lies the issue. The next generation of beef producers will possess many tools to create their success, and perhaps no tool is greater than fearlessness. Future challenges like these won’t limit future ranchers’ success; rather they will define it.  end mark

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