Every cattleman faces challenges—even NCBA leaders
Few cattlemen have an opportunity to represent an entire industry. Great responsibility rests on those who do.
The weight of leading the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) does not sit lightly on Bob McCan’s shoulders. But the Victoria, Texas, rancher isn’t one to shy from leadership roles. His family’s operation, McFaddin Ranch, carries a long legacy of leadership in the cattle industry. With his grandfather’s ingenuity to cross Brahman cows with Hereford bulls in 1930, the McFaddin legacy has instilled in McCan a desire to advance the beef industry.
“My grandfather and great uncle bred a three-quarter Hereford and one-quarter Brahman animal that looked a lot like a Hereford. They were able to ship the calves north to Kansas if they needed to finish them on grass, but they were also very adaptable to the environment down here,” he says. “We’ve been carrying on that breeding approach ever since.”
Like all ranchers, McCan has seen challenges emerge.
“Most of our land was considered traditional coastal prairie. It was all open at one time, but now we have a lot of brush encroachment,” he says. The operation’s two ranches and a third leased pasture are a mix of native bluestem, Texas wintergrass, panicums, brownseed paspulum and yellow Indiangrass to support 3,000 to 5,000 Braford cows.
“We’ve utilized the EQIP programs to clear pastures. About two years ago we grubbed out the mesquite and sprayed it. In February, we did a prescribed burn. We’ll probably do another burn in two years,” he says.
Beyond the ranch gate. Some challenges—born from regulation, legislation and litigation—are even harder to control than mesquite.
“We know we have a lot of challenges in the beef industry, but at NCBA, we feel like we have just as many opportunities—if not more,” McCan says.
While sustainability is all the rave, cattlemen are still trying to determine what it looks like on the ranch. When asked if his operation is sustainable, McCan says it is—they have been in the cattle business since 1877.
“In addition, [sustainability] means looking to the future and capitalizing on new technologies to improve efficiency. My son is probably going to be involved with this operation, and I have other family members interested. I want to give them every opportunity I can,” he says. Managing a large family operation makes estate planning and communication a priority. “In agriculture, we’ve always viewed the estate tax as unnecessary and a deterrent to the things we want to do on the land,” McCan says. “In our recreational hunting and wildlife business, being able to maintain large open space is a key component to raising wildlife. The estate tax is probably the biggest cause of land fragmentation in our country.”
The second biggest threat his operation, and the entire cattle industry, faces is regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency, he says. “We have some pretty big challenges in the environmental arena. If the proposed ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule goes through, it can certainly hurt us.”
This year the industry is at a new level of profitability and infrastructure. “We are growing international export demand and domestic demand. In order for us to maintain that demand, we are going to have to increase inventory,” he says. “With the progress we’ve made in exports, we’ll continue to maintain good price levels.”
However, McCan adds, anytime you have new regulation, it can cause bumps in the road. “Mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) is one of those issues. There are a lot of tools we can use to balance out our low inventory situation. One is cross-border trade. Canada and Mexico are two of our biggest export customers, and we are putting a COOL label on their product that’s causing discounts in the market and unnecessary cost within the whole infrastructure,” he says.
Despite the challenges, cattlemen are banding together. McCan was pleased to see Texas producers vote for an additional $1-per-head state-collected checkoff. “It’s an excellent example of unity. As big as Texas is, it will create significant dollars for the industry.”
It’s important that each cattleman has an opportunity to be heard.
“We’ve been deterred by this administration and populist groups close to the administration. I’m confident if we can focus on where we agree, it will help alleviate some of our challenges,” he says. “Together we can get more done.”
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