Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Faith, Bovines, and the Fiscal Cliff…

January 15, 2013Beef

News and rumors regarding the Fiscal Cliff seem to have completely taken over the TV, the radio and the internet as 2012 transitions into 2013.  If a dollar was donated every time that the term Fiscal Cliff was used, I would venture to think that our country could begin to climb out of the tremendous debt in which it currently resides…

The stark reality is that businesses must continue to operate despite the uncertainty that erupts from the veritable Fiscal Cliff. My farm is no exception to this. I would have 3,000 very unhappy and hungry bovines if I pushed them over the fiscal cliff and stopped feeding them due to economic challenges. Perhaps you would be upset with me as well if some day you went to the grocery store and there was no beef to be purchased?

I am notorious for flippantly stating that I do not need to travel to Las Vegas to gamble, I feed cattle instead. While I always say this with a bit of exaggerated drama, some days it really is not very far from the truth. The mainstream cattle production cycle is set up such that there are different levels and very slim margins tend to prevail amongst them.

  1. Cow-Calf:  The cattle ranch where the baby calves are born and spend 8-18 months before traveling somewhere else (and likely changing ownership) to be prepared for harvest.
  2. Feed Yard: A farm like mine where animals live in pens and are fed a blend of forages (grasses and legumes) and grains for 3-6 months being prepared for harvest.
  3. Packing Plant:  Where cattle are harvested and become beef.

This system (in my opinion) has prevailed because of economics, government regulations, and supplies of natural resources. Is it perfect? Heavens no! But, it is the reality. My farm is not big enough to change the existing system, consequently over the years I have tried to cut out a niche within the bigger system in which to be financially viable.

My niche is quality. I want to grow what I want to eat. I want to grow it responsibly and I want to feel good at night about how I spent my day. Somewhere deep inside of me, I need to feel as though what I do each day makes a difference and improves the lives of others.

About a decade ago, I went looking for a niche market that would reward me for quality and outstanding management/record keeping. I settled on a program called Age and Source Verification. This program offered a premium for quality beef that could be traced back to the original source (cow-calf ranch) and came with birthdate information as well as documentation regarding origin.

I chose this program because it fit the business model that I was trying to build — vertical collaboration with other cattlemen through sharing animal care and performance information — the end goal always being continuous improvement of the efficiency and quality of our animals. I was especially drawn to it because it did not restrict my management practices of using new technology to accomplish my goals of quality care and judicious use of natural resources.

The ASV Program grew out of Japan’s desire to have traceable U.S. beef that met certain animal harvest age requirements. Today, politics and regulations are changing and I have been told that the ASV program through which I market my cattle will be gone on March 30, 2013.

As this comes to fruition, I need to position my feed yard to participate in another niche market because my focus on quality care, quality beef, and building vertically collaborative relationships is stronger than ever. I know, in my heart, that it is where I need to be. The reality is that there are increased costs in operating my farm this way, so I must find a way to bring in additional profits to remain financially viable.

I became aware of a program called Progressive Beef sometime last fall. As I read the specifications of this new QSA (Quality Systems Assessment), I knew that I had found a program that mirrored my personal values. The only downside was that it required money and time up front with no certainty of additional profits from my cattle. Las Vegas here I come!

I am proud to share with all of you that I am following my heart and moving forward with Progressive Beef. In the next few posts, I will share more information on this new personal venture. In the meantime, I am remembering the words of Winston Churchill as I gather the faith to jump off of my own personal cliff…

Success is not final,

Failure is not fatal:

It is the courage to continue that counts…