Howard Hardecke is a bit different than most Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) members. He isn't a second or third generation family farmer with a wealth of on the job training that began at the toddler stage. He wasn't raised on a farm; he's a teacher by trade and a retired high school administrator. After careful consideration, he chose the lifestyle.
"I spent 30 years with the Springfield schools," he said. "Most of that time, I was dealing with kids and dealing with all the unknowns that come with teaching. I got into cattle because they were a little more predictable than kids.
Hardecke eased into the cattle business over those three decades, starting with just 20 acres in the early seventies. "I bought it because I always wanted to own some land and find a way to supplement my income with it. My father-in-law encouraged me to buy a few steers."
While still working as a school administrator, he gradually added a few acres at a time until he had about 200 acres. Today, he owns or leases over 500 acres near Bolivar, a small town about half an hour north of Springfield, Mo. His side business as a part time cattleman had finally taken over. When he retired in 1999, it became his career.
"Right now I run about 80 to 100 momma cows. We usually sell the calves in the fall but sometimes we'll hold over a few and sell them in the spring as yearlings. I like selling in the fall, the calves usually do better, but waiting until the spring when they have a little more size on them works out, too."
Like most anyone involved in education, he knew the value of knowledge and he was getting into an area where he was unschooled. There was a lot he needed to know so he looked around for some resources that would help.
"When I started raising cattle, I was hungry for knowledge so I got involved in the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. There was no affiliate organization in Greene County and I had met some people who wanted to form an organization, so I helped start it up," he said as he explained how he traveled the long road that led him to the CBB.
He was extremely active, always looking for more knowledge and ways to help the industry move forward. He served on the Polk County Cattlemen's Association, the Ozark Empire Fair Board, the Missouri Beef Industry Council, and the Missouri Cattlemen's Foundation. In addition, Hardecke served on Gov. Matt Blunt's agriculture advisory committee. All that work helped him earn the honor of being elected Missouri Cattleman of the Year in 2006.
Just a few short years after retiring from his school administrator position, he was elected president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. "That was in 2005 and we were facing a lot of challenges. I loved the involvement, especially the political aspect. I worked in Jefferson City and Washington."
He was nominated to the Beef Board by the Missouri Cattlemen's Association in 2010 and joined in 2011. When asked about his checkoff committee involvement, he said, "We work with education-oriented requests from our members. We help cattlemen with knowledge they can use to improve their operations.
"I'm semi-retired now," he said as he tried to explain that he was slowing down. But there is still that other farm near St. Louis, leased to a cousin, that takes up some of his time. "I help him out a bit, he raises some corn and beans and it's a cow/calf business, too. I've got a guy that runs the Bolivar place for me."
I wondered how much that ‘guy" really did with Hardeke nearby.
"I guess once you get this cattle business in your blood, you can't get rid of it," he said.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.