The pandemic might have postponed the annual gathering of cattlemen, but it didn’t postpone the work of the NCBA. In the past year the organization has been working to address issues for cattlemen and the beef industry.
Kansas Farmer had a chance to sit down with Kansas cattleman and NCBA President Jerry Bohn during the 2021 Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show, Aug. 10-12, in Nashville, Tenn.
By the looks of the registration numbers and the aisles of the trade show, it seems like the cattle industry was ready to gather together, in person, once again. It's really exciting to have 6,500-plus people here with us in Nashville, Tenn., at our convention. You know, this was a convention that was supposed to take place in February, but we had to delay it because of the COVID crisis. I think people are really excited to be here, excited to be able to see friends that they haven't seen for a while, and for the association to conduct our business and debate the issues — and hopefully come up with some solutions as we move forward.
Let’s talk about what you hear from your members. What’s on their minds, and what do they want to address in the coming year? Well, obviously cattle markets and all the pricing issues have been at the forefront. Surprisingly, we had a Live Cattle Marketing Committee yesterday that lasted less than an hour. We didn't have a lot of discussion. There were some updates on what's going on, but I think a lot of the controversy that's been present is hopefully [being addressed] through some of the work that's being accomplished.
We do have increased negotiated trade in the Southern Plains regions. And so I think our focus is maybe going to switch.
I'm concerned about what we see in the federal government and the new programs that they're launching, and how they're going to pay for it; and unfortunately, some of the things they're focused on are things that might hinder and harm our industry and our businesses. Such as taking away step-up in basis, increasing capital gains tax, and decreasing the estate tax exemption. All of those things could hamper and hinder our ability to pass on our farms and ranches to the next generation. And it's estimated that over the next 20 years, 40% of the ag land in the country is going to change ownership. So, we really have got to be on our toes to make certain that those things that are positive and help us transfer ownership to our children, that that doesn't go away.
Now we had a bit of good news from CattleFax this morning. Seems like the ship might be righting itself a bit in regards to market prices and demand? Yes, that was one of the most positive marketing outlooks that we've heard in some time. I think it's several things going on. Beef demand is record good right now; it's the best it's been in well over 30 years. So that's exciting.
Good supplies of fed cattle are getting more in line with packing plant capacity. If we can get some workers back into the packing plants and get them operating at peak levels, we could manage the supply thing pretty quickly, but it does look like we're heading in the right direction.
Unfortunately, some of our producers in the Western part of the country are suffering from drought and grasshoppers and fires and those kinds of things, so we're concerned about that — and that's going to cause some forced liquidation that appears, and that may even cause this thing to speed up a little bit.
Let’s talk about Kansas and our cattle industry. What do you hear from Kansas members about what opportunities and challenges they see in the future of the industry? Well, we're aware over the last four or five years that a 350,000 to 400,000 head of additional cattle feeding capacity has already been built; there's rumors of some additional feedyards expanding and going online. We hear of some new dairies, a new cheese plant going in at Dodge City that might result in additional dairy or two in the state. So, those things are ongoing.
You know the one challenge we have in western Kansas is a declining water table, and the overall aquifer’s disappearing, and so we've got to work to manage that and make certain that that doesn't cause a lot of businesses to have to slow down or shut down from watering their crops in the future.
That brings me to the question of the meeting this year — what can cattlemen do to prove they’re sustainable, and how do you approach the topic with members? Well, I think when you bring it up, first, you get kind of blank stares sometimes. Because I think many people think they're already sustainable.
We've got to do a better job of telling our story to the consumers and to the public, because the perception out there is that we're not a contributor to the environment — when in actuality we are. You know, 90% of the food that our beef animal eats comes from products that are not edible by people, whether it's grass crop residue, forages, waste food and those kinds of things. So, our beef animal really is an upcycler in that regard.
And then we also manage across the country 900-plus million acres of land that already is sequestering carbon. And so, we've got to change the narrative and tell our story better. I think that's what NCBA is attempting to do, and we are going to be rolling out a set of long-term goals for our association.
Any final thoughts for cattle producers? Things are looking better. You know, the fact that people want to eat beef is really exciting. I think the challenge for us is, how do we continue to meet that demand and do it profitably for all parts of the industry?