Dec 24, 2009

Creating an image

Creating an image

We hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and is looking forward to an even better New Year. During 2009, the cattle industry faced many challenges. We had fed cattle prices that didn’t support a profitable feeding sector and they experienced perhaps their worst year on record. Forecasters are calling for a better 2010 for cattle feeders which will filter down to every other sector.

The next decade presents some great challenges for the beef industry and agriculture as a whole. Image is perhaps No. 1 on my list. With so many environmental groups and humane treatment organizations breathing down our necks, we have to really get out and tell the story of the industry and emphasize the social and ecological benefits that ranching generates. Many of these anti-agriculture groups have legislative agendas.

The Colorado Beef Council understands this and has produced a very nice video that explains how cattle improve the grasslands by grazing, how ranchers have improved wildlife habitats with conservation practices that benefit rangelands and wetlands. The video also emphasizes how ranchers are maintaining open space by placing some of their properties in conservation easements or enrolling them in state land trusts to keep the ranch operating for generations to come.

Now the hard part is to get this video in the hands of people who are riding herd on animal welfare and environmental issues. It may be that their ideologies are so strong that they may never see the benefits of a cow. They also might never think that ranch managers would create habitat for a booming elk herd, which we have in Colorado.

This video needs to get into the hands of state and federal legislators so they can understand what goes on in the real world of animal agriculture. When 95 percent of all ranching operations are family owned businesses, it’s impossible to call it factory farming. For the most part, farming is, and always will be, a family business. Creating a good image for ranching is simply the right thing to do, but we’ve still got a lot of work ahead.

I don’t see the primary challenges for the beef industry as a function of production costs and markets. The greatest challenges ahead are going to come from government agencies, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and a whole host of environmental groups that have learned how to game the system.

The Environmental Protection Agency is rapidly becoming punitive and creating unrealistic standards for dust and water quality and greenhouse gasses. This agency, that was created for a good reason, is starting to take things a bit too far.

HSUS has been a real nemesis the past couple of years with their undercover cameras and capturing video that puts livestock producers in a bad light. One bad apple can spoil everything. The animal agriculture industry must make the effort to maintain humane handling standards. This battle is an emotional battle and the warriors are people with pets and lots of money who know nothing about agriculture. We simply cannot give them more tools to use against our industry.

Environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, Wild Earth Guardians or Natural Resources Defense Council file a lot of lawsuits and their main targets are government agencies that manage land or wildlife. They are constantly filing petitions on a proposed endangered species in federal courts. The U.S. Fish and Wild life Service (USFWS) only has 90 days to respond and if they don’t, they get sued for non-performance and as a result, in many cases, USFWS is forced to make hasty, incorrect decisions. Here, the industry is at a disadvantage because the environmental groups receive payment of their attorney fees through the Equal Justice Act, which was intended to help disadvantaged people to defend themselves in a government law suit. Instead it amounts to taxpayers giving these environmental groups a blank check to sue the government while they chip away at the industry.

Some elements in agriculture aren’t pretty, but we still need to take the high road and show the world that we are good stewards of the environment and resources that we care for. These issues may never go away, but we need to have a strong showing in the court of public opinion in the time ahead if we’re going to be successful. To many of these groups, it’s a game. To us, it’s our life. — PETE CROW