By Jared Wareham
Two of the most essential, intangible skills a young entrepreneur needs to sharpen are networking and perspective. To operate with savvy and intelligence, you must know how every moving part works, its role, how each one affects the others and be able to see change coming before it arrives. Attending the Young Cattlemen’s Conference (YCC) provided me the opportunity to put a razor’s edge on both.
For 10 days, I traveled cross-country with 60 cattlemen and women from all over the U.S. Included were several NCBA staff members and industry professionals from companies such as JBS, Cargill, Cattle-Fax, John Deere, McDonald’s and more. By the end of the trip, I possessed a contact list full of lifelong friends and an expanded understanding of the complexities of our industry.
First stop: Denver. Our first few days were spent understanding the roles of NCBA: their importance as a lobbying force in Washington, D.C., an educational leader with consumers and activists, and as a research and support group for cattlemen nationwide. The battles our industry faces with consumer confidence, education and negative social media are real, and the countering efforts of NCBA are both deep and broad. During the Denver leg, we explored the JBS plant in Greeley, Colo., and their Kuner feedyard with more than 100,000-head capacity. I enjoyed visiting a large Safeway grocery store and speaking with consumers as they purchased beef products. The level of general distrust of agricultural products appears to be growing. Hormone-free, healthy and safe were mentioned many times by consumers who seemed to have no agriculture background.
Second stop: Chicago. This stop was brief, but filled with opportunities. The food service industry is evolving rapidly with the emergence of the next generation of consumers. That was evident listening to McDonald’s senior staff speak candidly about their current and future infrastructure. Highly-processed foods are falling out of favor. Competitors are strategically exploiting this as a platform to seize market share.
Last stop: Washington, D.C. This was definitely my favorite leg of the trip. I caught a little of the “Potomac Fever” as we spent the day on Capitol Hill lobbying congressional leaders on important topics such as mandatory country-of-origin labeling, Trade Promotion Authority and Waters of the U.S. I think Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president, government affairs, summed up D.C. best by saying that on the Hill, there is always a lot of motion but very little movement. After spending a full day visiting with my elected officials, I can see why.
Overall, the YCC tour helped me understand the changing climate in our industry. Globalization of the food supply chain is occurring at a rapid rate. U.S. cattlemen produce the highest quality beef in the world, but we have growing competition. Foreign market demand will offer an opportunity for our industry. We are no longer in an arms race with countries such as China—we are in a race to secure global food markets and ensure the sustainability of our nation’s agricultural infrastructure for future generations.