Commentary: ‘Get In The Freaking Ark!'

Kacy Atkinson ( KA )

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.

Comments
Submitted by gavin on Tue, 10/01/2019 - 19:47

this is very important. if the anti meat prevails prices go to nil.

Submitted by Byron Barkhurst on Tue, 10/01/2019 - 23:07

There's some really good points here, and some really terribly inaccurate information.

That's mostly what's wrong with the cattle industry. Misinformation.

People aren't mad about how funds have been handed by the NCBA as much as they are about taxation without representation.

In 2015, when cool was in place, cattle prices were the highest they'd been in years. Nearly double what they had been historically.

Within 2 weeks of Tom Vilsac signing the two declarations allowing foreign beef to be imported from previously quarantined countries with foot and mouth, the calf prices dropped by 50%.

Hamburger prices didn't change much at that time.

Years earlier I asked one of the owners of a packing company that, at the time, was the 4th largest packer in the US why the hamburger prices hadn't changed much in the store. He then told me of how the packers purchased sub standard beef from foreign countries and mix it in with all of the fat trimmings from US cattle. That's where the hamburger comes from he said. We then sell the premium beef to the countries that demand it and we do it at a premium.

When I asked him how he felt about the little small ranchers that were going out of business because of the low calf prices, his response was exactly like Perdues. It's about scale, and if you can't scale it, well, that's too bad.

Later in 2015, the NCBA, NAMI, and a few others lobbied Congress to repeal cool on beef alone and argued that "beef is beef", "it doesn't matter where it comes from".

You tell me, why would an entity charged with the sole purpose of promoting US beef make such a reckless comment?

In December of that year Congress repealed cool for beef and family ranchers have been struggling since.

Not one individual that is on NCBAs side can explain why it's ok that just before Vilsac signed those agreements, that a 500 million dollar foot and mouth disease study and containment facility was built in the heart of Kansas. Right in the middle of cattle country.

The one thing she's got right is that we should all be pulling together. It's hard to do though when we're all tired and we have an entity that we are mandated to pay into working so hard against the US Cattle Producer by lobbying on behalf foreign companies in our Congress and claiming that "meat is just meat".

That couldn't be further from the truth.

Submitted by Anthony Young on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 10:34

Byron, your comments are right on target. All of the cattlemen I visit with agree with your views. And when I find a consumer that doesn’t want to know where their beef comes from I will let you know!

In reply to by Byron Barkhurst (not verified)

Submitted by David on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 07:25

So true for all of agriculture, not just beef. So many people in DC protecting their jobs by keeping separate organizations.

Submitted by Steve on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 07:32

You say in one phrase people don’t care about cool and knowing where their beef comes from, and the next phrase you say that people care so much about the antibiotics and hormones in their beef. Do you honestly think the beef coming from other countries is following the same guidelines on antibiotics and hormones that we are! That’s silly! You’ve got a lot to learn...or maybe you have a lot to gain by keeping cool from being implemented. A fifth generation rancher could easily be wealthy enough to have their hands in cattle production in other countries. I would love to hear an honest answer if you’re Ranch has any involvement with cattle or beef grown across our border, the readers deserve to know that answer.

Submitted by Stan Olson on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 07:50

Bravo! Well said. She is right, we are destroying ourselves from within.

Submitted by Gerald Vice on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 08:28

I absolutely agree with Kacy Atkinson's Commentary! I've worked in the beef cattle nutrition industry for over 40 years and have seen a lot of things and trends come and go regarding our US cattle industry's positions on domestic marketing of our products, export expansion to enter new markets and the many quality improvement changes in the livestock we produce. Like Katy, I'm concerned regarding many of the different fractures I'm seeing within the producers thought processes today. Whether we like it or not, we're all on the same team with the ultimate goal of producing and marketing a high quality beef product that consumers world-wide can experience and enjoy as part of a healthy, nutritious diet. Fighting amongst ourselves is never a good strategy or viable solution for a strong team trying to accomplish and achieve the same goals!

Submitted by Bill on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 08:47

The only one's doing any harm are the one's lobbying for more imports, are against COOL, and the PRIME Act, and has remained silent while packers net over $500 per head, and producers lose money. Mind telling us how that is???

What I've seen over the past week is independent cattle producers finally fed up with the same old same old, and are demanding action, and wanting someone to stand up for them, and not just beef in general.

Submitted by Richard on Sat, 10/05/2019 - 02:11

Bill, I am not in the beef industry, not even tangentially. I do personally know many small cow/calf operations in California, several who are 5th or 6th generation. As an outsider looking in I see many of the same problems in my industry of commercial fishing. I'll answer your question; look to Congress as to why packers seem to 'rob' the producers.

In reply to by Bill (not verified)

Submitted by Jack on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 10:15

What you fail to realize Kacy is that NCBA is not the only group with an arc. Your welcome to climb on board USCA’s arc or I’m sure R-CALF’s arc if you’re convinced we all need to be on one arc.

It’s naive to think that one organization can speak for this entire industry. We’re way too diversified and independent. The trick is to get every group together on the issues we can agree on and move them forward. Some of these other issues, we’re never going to agree on and disagreements aren’t bad. They happen in the best of families.

Submitted by Ronnn on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 10:29

One point not made is that ranchers as a whole can be counted on to "be agin" almost anything. Even the R-Calf vs NCBA tif is not basically about being "for" anything, it is about being "agin" what the other organization is doing. Until and unless we can change the ranch culture and actually be "for" good practices, good PR and other things necessary to continue the industry, we will spiral downward and our descendants will likely be eating "fake meat".

Submitted by D gray on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 20:29

If we all go broke it doesn't Matter. Sustainability equals profitability. When we had cool, for the first time in 40 years, resources were being properly allocated by true market forces. Guess what? Every segment of the beef industry was profitable including the poor old meatpackers! This gal seems clueless.

In reply to by Ronnn (not verified)

Submitted by JN on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 12:50

These are the same issues in many respects the dairy industry faces. The choice to direct dollars pulled from our checks to fund organizations that are to far out of reach of the average producer is not self destructive. As a dairyman I pay both beef check off dollars and .15 per cwt of milk into promotion. The lack of competition and having everyone under one banner creates a situation where policy can be dictated to you. Have you heard of the FARM program. If you want to market milk in the US you must comply. Look it up. See what they have been able to force on us. As fiercely independent as beef producers are and have had to be what will you all have to say when that type of program comes to your ranch. When you have to complete mandatory training in the tasks you have done for generations. Think it can’t happen. Blindly go along with the way things are then. I would love to have choice in where my dollars go. I pay the dollar check off on bull calves that don’t cover the trucking and commission to sell them. How is that right? Always challenge the status quo. Private organizations that have to compete for my support work harder. Do you feel your tax dollars are well spent? I’m guessing not. What is the difference between tax and mandatory check-off? I would love to have a bit more choice with how those dollars get spent.

Submitted by Joan Ruskamp on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 16:43

The best of beef is the people.

When historic flooding hit Nebraska no one asked what cattle organization you belonged to. Everyone pitched in and helped. Hay was hauled in on trucks and dropped from the sky to get cattle fed. Families were sheltered in homes, campers and auditoriums with food and clothing donated by the carloads from nearby towns. I've witnessed charity first hand right here in our state and again, it didn't matter what cattle organization you belonged to. I have also witnessed second hand how many times cattlemen and women reach out to help others in need. Beef people are some of the best people I know. Kacy, too, knows the value of the people behind the beef story. Her call to action of working together is important for many of the reasons she listed. The beef checkoff put the focus on the consumer and building demand there with quality, consistency, convenience, etc... It's always been about people-the people who produce the beef and the people who eat it. Thanks for writing the post, Kacy, and to Drovers for sharing it.

Submitted by common tater on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 21:30

Someone might also forward this very good piece to Kit Pharo...when someone like him makes the statement "the feeding of animals in confinement is hurting the environment" it only gives credibility to the extremists that actually believe it. I don't think he believes it, but it helps support HIS business model. And the reality is that the statement is wrong...no matter how their beef is produced, for the average American who lives in a subdivision with air conditioning and the modern things of life (which are virtually all made from non-renewable resources), their beef is THE most sustainable and 'green'aspect of their entire life. Also, virtually all of Pharo's customers have as their source of income, buyers for feedlots and backgrounders...it does nobody any good to publicly attack other segments to try to help yourself....and it certainly isn't fair....or Christian, in my humble estimation. Thanks for considering.

Submitted by Craig on Thu, 10/03/2019 - 12:23

COOL is a many splendored thing when it comes to what it is and why it had to go. But just on the why it had to go is because of the WTO multiple rulings. If they would just write it just like the one Canada has, then there would be no problem because Canada could not run to the WTO to overturn it. I always wonder at times like this how many out there don't know that Canada itself has COOL legislation covering its meat.

Submitted by Glen on Fri, 10/04/2019 - 10:33

She makes the best argument for COOL ever. The only way to know the answer to antibiotics, sustainably, humane handling etc is to know where your meat comes from. Not all countries have rules and the regulations American producers have to follow but it all gets cranked in to the supply chain as if everything is equal. Fifty years of raising beef has taught me to see things and learn from multiple places. The Wall Street Journal and many other news sources have written about how badly, 78 percent, consumers want to know where their beef is from!

Submitted by Jack on Sat, 10/05/2019 - 03:12

Sounds like the Beef Industry has FUDDS also.
You guys are NRA’ing!
WTFU!

Submitted by Steve on Sat, 10/05/2019 - 08:03

Howdy, howdy, howdy
A word of wisdom from an old man....you aren't saying anything different then what the National Farmers Organization (NFO) said in the 60's-70's. Let's just say this; the chance of beef producers getting together to sing Kum-by-ya, is about equal to what we tried to do with milk producers back in the 60's.
The nature/psyche of beef or milk producers is a "loner/non-joiner". But willing to take the higher prices the joiners produce!
Heh, good luck!

Submitted by Mac Mcgovern on Sat, 10/05/2019 - 08:47

I am not a beef producer but an avid consumer. I want to consume 100% American produced beef. I have a question. Are we as Americans paying more for beef produced here than than the beef that is sold to other countries?