More than 8,000 participants from across America and around the world are gathering at the iconic Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., through Saturday for the 120th annual Cattle Industry Convention & National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA) Trade Show.
“The convention and NCBA Trade Show is the beef industry's largest gathering of the year, and it's a great opportunity for everybody in the industry to network, set public policy for 2017 and learn about all the new technology and science that's improving the quality and safety of American-produced beef every day,” NCBA president Tracy Brunner said.
The Cattlemen's College, which is considered the premier educational resource for cattle producers, kicked off on Tuesday afternoon with educational sessions focused on genetics, health and best business practices.
The Cattlemen's College featured two sessions: (1) “Turning Loss into Gain: Managing Risk to Improve Fertility,” with Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam and Dr. Megan Rolf presenting new research on cow herd fertility and its impact on profitability, and (2) a concurrent session featuring Dr. Kent Andersen, who examined the use of genetic tools for building more productive cow herds and adding value to feeder and fed cattle.
On Wednesday morning, Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs for JBS USA, spoke about the changing consumer expectations for beef. He emphasized the need for every segment of the beef supply chain to better understand its customers to meet the needs of a changing industry. He also emphasized the significant challenges posed by competing proteins as well as the uncertain political environment and its impact on labor in the U.S.
“Today, it's very difficult to find someone to work in a packing plant,” Bruett said. “Much of our labor force is comprised of first-generation immigrants, and they're great people, but we still face significant turnover and unplanned absenteeism among our workforce, and that makes it difficult to run a business. Ultimately, it makes it difficult to get our product out the door. That impacts the (cattle producers) who depend on the packers to supply beef to the consumers. The bottleneck in our industry isn't in the number of animals anymore; the bottleneck is a labor shortage in the plant, and it's a major problem.”
Bruett, who has played key roles in the beef sustainability movement, also spent time defining beef sustainability and illustrating the importance and benefits of the industry's path of continuous improvement.
“There are a lot of labels out there, but those labels aren't about sustainability,” Bruett said. “Those labels are about a production practice, but sustainability is much more than any single production practice. In order to evaluate the sustainability of the product, the profitability, social and environmental aspects must be considered equally. Something may be good for the environment, but if it's not also profitable, then it's not sustainable.
“There's a great deal of concern that there's going to be a mandate about practices, but that's not what sustainability is about; it's about the end product. If that product is profitable, contributes to the social landscape and has positive environmental benefits, then it becomes sustainable,” Bruett added.
That message resonated with the 200-plus collegiate Cattlemen's College participants in attendance at this year's event. Presentations from the 2017 Cattlemen's College will be available online after Feb. 17 at: www.beefusa.org.
Trade show underway
The doors to the NCBA Trade Show opened on Wednesday afternoon, with 353 exhibitors showcasing the industry's latest products and technology.
The convention's opening general session on Wednesday afternoon was emceed by country music superstar Josh Turner, with the keynote by Dr. Beck Weathers. In 1996, Weathers barely survived one of the most violent and deadly storms ever to strike Mt. Everest, and he served as the inspiration for the major motion picture "Everest."
"You learn a variety of things from an experience like this," Weathers said of his brush with death. "I am an entirely ordinary individual, and we are all cut from the same clay. If I can survive that which is un-survivable, so can you."
The convention will wrap up on Saturday morning with a meeting of NCBA's board of directors, where official public policy positions will be set for the coming year.