The opinions express in this commentary are those of Kacy Atkinson, a 5th-generation Wyoming rancher.
I’ll admit it. I’m angry and frustrated with several of my fellow producers. I wrote a version of this blog post several years ago. But, with what’s been going on lately, I felt the need to rewrite it a bit. To say it louder for the people in the back who seem to be missing the message.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the Bible story about Noah and his ark. And I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth that might have to do with the cattle business. Bear with me for a minute, I promise I have a point in this analogy.
When the flood came, and the animals all got on the boat, for 40 days and 40 nights, everyone got along. The lions didn’t eat the lambs, the elephants didn’t step on the rabbits, and the snakes didn’t strike the hippos. Everyone played nice, for the sake of their survival. And the flood came and went, and everyone got off the boat in the same shape they got on in. The entire animal kingdom managed to put aside their differences, their nature, their roles and get along…you know, so they’d still exist when the flood was over.
When I look at our industry and how fragmented we are becoming, I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t take a lesson from the ark. Because I don’t think it’s about NCBA vs R-CALF, or organic vs traditional vs grass-fed vs natural…the list could go on and on. I think it’s about the fact that we are all part of one very tiny beef community, and maybe it’s time we got in the same dang boat. I mean, we have enough enemies-animal activist organizations, bloggers and shareholders on a mission, poor news reporting, bad science…we don’t need to make enemies of each other. And the reality is, that today I see an industry becoming so fragmented—we don’t need anyone else to destroy us. We’re doing a mighty fine job of destroying ourselves from within.
So, I’m going to say it louder for the people in the back who don’t seem to be listening. I get it. You’re unhappy with how beef checkoff funds have been spent over the years. You don’t think you’ve gotten the return you should.
You think COOL matters. You think the packers play unfairly. Lest the angry comments start flooding my way, it’s not that I don’t agree those could be or aren’t things to work on. But in the grand scheme of our industry, they just aren’t the battles that matter at the moment. Those aren’t the battles to fight if we are going to keep people buying beef. You know why? Because NONE of those are things that matter to them (you know, the people buying beef), or determine if they are going to choose to buy beef to feed their family in the future.
To see fellow cattlemen giving money to an organization that is OPENLY in bed with the enemy known as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), organizations determined to put us out of business, is unfathomable. It’s unconscionable. It’s madness.
Do we have a perfect system? Of course not. But I think you are out of your mind if you don’t believe that the beef checkoff has done more good for our industry than we could have ever achieved as individuals, or even individual states. There’s a reason that the Costco in Seoul, South Korea sells more American beef every day than anywhere else on earth. There’s a reason why “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” is one of the most recognizable slogans of all time. There’s a reason why several new cuts of beef have been developed over the years (hello flat iron steak). There’s a reason why beef demand hasn’t significantly changed over the years (about an ounce less per day than the high in the 70s, with record high meat consumption predicted in 2019).
And it’s all thanks to the work being done by our check-off dollars. Has the money always been handled perfectly? Probably not. When does that ever happen in real life? If you don’t like the way the money is being handled—here’s a novel thought—pull up a chair and take a seat at the table where the money is and fix it. You know, instead of actively working to destroy it. (Oh, and us in the process.)
I’ve had so many conversations with cattlemen completely hung up on COOL. That’s why they’ve left NCBA. Well at the risk of the hate mail that’s about to come flooding my way—COOL didn’t work the way we wanted it to. People buying our beef don’t care enough to pay for it. And COOL is so far down the list of the major issues that people in this country care about related to beef it’s not even funny.
You want to know what IS actually impacting and attacking our industry in the minds of people who eat? Sustainability. Climate change. The safety of the food they eat (i.e. hormones, antibiotics, animal welfare). And I can tell you, everyone of the 700,000 of us in the industry ought to be thanking our lucky stars every single day for the work of people like Dr. Sara Place (who works at NCBA), screaming from her mountain top about how cattle are in fact sustainable (you know 80% of the land raising cattle isn’t fit to grow any other type of human food). How they aren’t destroying the environment (in fact they are taking low quality human-inedible feeds and converting them to high quality, high protein food for us).
How removing cattle from the earth won’t impact the climate (3.3% of GHG emissions are contributed to cattle according to the EPA, and eliminating them won’t impact that number significantly as it would certainly change the amount of carbon sequestration cattle accomplish among other things) but would certainly have a negative impact on the economy, animal and plant biodiversity, wildlife habitat and our diets to name a few. She’s working her tail off to tell our story—the part of the story that American’s actually care about. Sharing actual facts. Helping with actual research that might convince people we aren’t the enemy. That’s the part that will determine if people put beef on their plate. And she’s one of a few who are working every day to make our check-off dollars matter. And crazy as this is, I suspect she’s making a difference. Because she’s having the conversations the people buying our product care about. The conversations we ought to be having. The issues we ought to be focused on if we want to stay in business. We’re so blinded by the mini-battles we seem to be completely missing the war—and I’m sure she (and people like Dr. Frank Mitleohner at UC-Davis) could use our help there.
And yes. I know you’re frustrated with packers. And labels. And market prices. We all are. But our future, my future, the young generations future depends on dealing with the issues that our CUSTOMERS actually care about. Because none of the rest of it matters if people don’t buy beef in the end. If they don’t feel like it’s safe. And healthy. And sustainable. And has a positive impact on the climate and the environment. If the Ellen DeGeneres’ of the world speak louder than us.
We have to play on the same team. We have to learn to speak with one voice. We have to focus on the war that matters. Remember at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. To raise our kids in the way of life we love. To take care of our animals. To live on the land. To see something we’ve built passed on to the next generation in line. To know that we produced a product we are proud of that other people find enjoyment in.
It’s time to get on the same ship. It’s time to stop infighting. It’s time to move forward together. Look around at our country and see what differences are doing to us. See how our very country appears to be ripping apart. And make a different choice for our industry. Let’s all take a seat at one table, and move forward with one voice, trying to do the best we can.
Come together. Make the system better if you think it’s not working, don’t destroy it. Figure out how we make the best future we can. Because if we don’t, we won’t need HSUS or animal rights activists or Ellen or climate change activists or bad journalism or lies or myths to destroy it. We’ll destroy our industry all on our very own. And wouldn’t that be a win for them? It’s time to look around, take stock of what really matters in the long game, and choose to fight the actual war we should be focused on.
So, on behalf of the people in our industry who feel the way I do--for those who are tired and frustrated and fed-up. Tired of those who market their product by disparaging our production methods. Tired of those peddling lies. Tired of the fighting, the finger-pointing, the name calling. Tired of those who can’t see the forest for the trees. Tired of those stuck on fighting a battle and losing sight of the actual war. Tired of watching us tear ourselves apart. Tired of seeing our inability to work together provide openings for the enemy. Tired of seeing people try to destroy the one system we have in place that actually effectively markets our product and makes it better for all of us. Tired of wondering why we can’t just get along and do something good for our entire industry. Tired of watching our future be jeopardized. WE ARE TIRED. And we deserve better. Because we can be better and do better than this. So MUCH BETTER than this.
So, I’ll scream it again. One more time. As loud as I can. For the people in the back. It’s time to get along. It’s time to play for the same team. It’s time to be on the same side. It’s time to fight the same war. It’s time to do what’s best for the whole. It’s time to do what’s best for our young people and our future. It’s time to understand what the real issues-the issues that impact demand for our product are according to the people buying our product. It’s time to knock it off.
For the love of all things—GET IN THE FREAKING ARK.
Kacy Atkinson was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Southeastern Wyoming. She received a B.S. in Agribusiness from West Texas A&M University. She also received a Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis in Agriculture and a Masters in Speech Communications. After several years working in higher education at WTAMU and then for CSU Extension as a livestock agent, she has now returned home to the family cow-calf operation in Wyoming. As a 5th-generation cattle rancher, she is passionate about sharing beef's story, along with her family's daily ranch life, and does so through her website, kacyatkinson.com, as well as on social media under the handle @10milespastnowhere on Facebook and Instagram, and @10milespast on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Kacy Atkinson.