Expand on Your Knowledge

Published on Mon, 11/23/2009 - 12:54pm

Educational opportunities for cattlemen are as numerous as breed options and production philosophies. Instructional offerings in a variety of formats can be found at every level of production: local, state, regional and national. Breed associations, extension educators and industry experts all provide learning venues on an ongoing basis. In states where the beef industry plays a major economic role, research centers linked to state universities provide a wealth of archived and current information. Iowa’s Beef Center offers links to information on Economics and Markets; Forages, Hay and Grazing; Feedlot Operations; Cow-calf Operations; Stocker/Backgrounder; Environmental Management; Feed/Corn Co-Products; and links across the state of Iowa. Linked to Iowa State University, IBC staff delivers “the latest in research-based information to improve the profitability and vitality of Iowa’s beef industry.” Producers find a monthly e-newsletter, listing of upcoming state conventions and seminars and a blog site: http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/iowabeef. Those are just some of IBC’s available resources. This site is updated often. There is always more information being posted to this site. The Kansas Beef Cattle Research Center found at www.asi.kstate.edu/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=957 offers information about beef as well as dairy, equine, poultry, sheep and swine. As the name implies, they also provide research data linked to beef industry needs that helps producers improve management practices in their effort to provide safe, high quality beef products. Kansas’ beef extension program strives to address all phases of beef production from ‘farm to fork’ and to inform producers about additional websites and land-grant institutions. Research areas at the Kansas center cover animal health, breeding and nutrition as well as food science and meat science. Webcasts, research reports and links to beef resources at institutions across the nation put cattlemen in touch with a wealth of research-based information. Among the online education resources available to cattlemen is Montana Beef Network, MBN. The network, a collaborative effort between Montana State University and the Montana Stockgrowers Association, was designed to assist Montana livestock producers in receiving added value for their cattle. MBN has three main goals: Beef Quality Assurance Certification (BQA); Feeder Calf Certification; and return of feedlot and carcass data to producers. At www.mtbeefnetwork.org, visitors will find a Beef Blog, videos, archived and current newsletters, articles, etc. As with most beef production websites, meetings and conferences, the latest research information and links to other resources are all found at MBN’s site. For producers interested in Sustainable Agriculture, publications, handbooks, factsheets and more can be found at Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, www.sare.org. SARE was founded in 1988 and offers assistance through nationwide research and education grants program. The Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture contributes to the development of continuing education by also supporting the SARE programs. SARE’s site features links to printed materials discussing sustainable farming practices. The site also features e-books and searchable online databases about sustainable agriculture. Producers and researchers who obtain SARE grants are required to provide progress and final reports on outcomes. That body of knowledge is available through the website. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center, SAREC, in southeast Wyoming, emphasizes integrated and interdisciplinary research and education. Through the Western SARE Professional Development Program, organizations such as Cooperative Extension Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service and other appropriate agricultural professionals with agencies and nonprofit organizations increase their understanding of and proficiency in sustainable agriculture. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Executive Director of Producer Education, Dr. Tom Field, says, “producers also find a wealth of learning opportunities by interacting with fellow producers.” “Beef producers are some of the brightest, most creative people on the planet,” Field says. “Anyone engaged in the business of producing cattle and beef understands how valuable local knowledge is and how talented our producers are. It’s probably never been more important to take advantage of every opportunity to interact with producers in an educational venue.” NCBA’s website, www.beefusa.org, offers a broad spectrum of educational information as well as links to additional resources that include Extension Educators and industry experts. The site’s Cattle Learning Center puts producers in touch with Cattlemen’s College, Beef Quality Assurance (BQA), and Integrated Resource Management as well as articles, hot topics, video clips, etc., all designed to help producers learn and stay informed. “We’re blessed in this country to have great professionals in a variety of settings that provide information on specific topics or even day-to-day analysis of beef activities,” Field says. “Our US Department of Agriculture has valuable information for cattlemen and producers will find all sorts of information and tools at the Cattle Learning Center. It’s a very useful resource.” Cattlemen’s College, sponsored by Pfizer, has become a “premier producer education program” made available through the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show. A series of educational and informational sessions are offered each year to assist cattlemen in gaining or enhancing industry knowledge. “One of our future goals is to provide more tool based systems that give producers an opportunity to evaluate elements of their operation and help them make decisions,” Field says. “Break-even calculators, cost-of-gain calculators and those types of things are what we’re working to develop to make it easier for producers to access the information they need to maximize profits. We see our role in the industry as an information portal. We work to find great information sources we can offer through our website, National Cattlemen Magazine, RFD TV, and face-to-face venues such as the college and Stockmanship and Stewardship Program. The Cattle Learning Center is the link I recommend to cattlemen.” Among the areas Field says producers should continually monitor for developments and changes are leading indicators in the economy, policy trends and activities in Washington and promoting the beef industry. “Having a handle on economic changes and trends allows producers to successfully organize and strategize their own economic plan,” Field says. “For instance, our current huge national debt could lead to high interest rates and strong inflationary pressures. Producers who operate on short-term loans or equity loans have to plan to deal with changes in the cost of operating money. There are always economic conditions influenced by government regulations, international trade changes, international monetary funds, and those kinds of things. That may not be the first thing on producer’s minds, but it’s critical to prepare for these types of changes.” As legislative bodies develop and impose policy on the public in general and beef industry in particular, beef producers can successfully inform and influence policy makers to deter policy that adversely affects the industry. “Producers need to be actively engaged and very vocal about the direction of public policies,” Field says. “The Masters of Beef Advocacy, a check-off funded program, and some online training courses help people learn how to interact with elected officials, neighbors or fellow church members. By becoming an advocate, they can counter wild claims often made by activists.” As activist groups organize campaigns to weaken the food animal industry as a whole, Field says it becomes more important than ever for beef producers to understand the importance of and basics of promoting the industry. “The beef industry is sometimes caught in the middle of the activist hype, and often totally unfairly,” Field says. “Producers have to be strong advocates for their own industry.” Effective management skills are also crucial to successful beef operations. A wealth of information about emerging and proven management techniques is also available through the NCBA website. “Cost is a critical piece of the beef industry puzzle,” Field says. “A number of skills are required to systematically and thoughtfully build integrated management systems that combine knowledge of genetics, animal health and nutrition and animal handling. Cattle have the best opportunity to perform profitably with that type of system.” Cattlemen around the world can exchange information through the Internet and e-mail. Programs such as NCBA’s Cattle Ranching Exchange Program also give cattlemen, government and environmental officials opportunity to identify mutual goals and work together to achieve them. Additional links found at www.beefusa.org include Allied Industry & Product Council, State Affiliates, Breed Affiliates, and Federation of State Beef Councils. Other industry organization links on the NCBA site include the Cattlemen’s Beef Board; Cattle-fax; American National Cattlewomen, Inc.; U.S. Meat Export Federation; American Farmers & Ranchers; Livestock Exporters Association; Texas Cattlewomen and American Veal Association. Field notes that interaction with other producers has been one of the ways the beef industry has worked through and survived chaotic times in the past. “I encourage cattle producers to attend some kind of seminar and conference every year,” he says. “I think it’s never been more important for our producers to be well connected to their community and other cattlemen so they’re in a position to be informed and capture the very best information and technology available. Through the years cattlemen have had the ability to find common ground and solve problems. I took this job because I have so much faith in the men and women who make their living in the beef business. We need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to help each other learn, think creatively and make sure we retain the freedoms that keep the beef industry strong.”