Sign reading

The sign reads “Welcome to Grant County,” in simple white letters on a small, forest green backdrop. It sits near a creek more than an hour’s drive from where I grew up, but every time I see it, I already feel like I’m home. At this landmark, the air begins to smell different and the scenery—though to the untrained eye not seemingly dissimilar to the miles behind—is distinctly more familiar.

It’s a sign that I’m in the right place.

Most would breeze by this small signal and I’m sure many do. I only notice because of its significance to me.

For the cattle industry, market signals can offer the same perspective. Data, seasonal changes, articles providing the same advice on vaccination programs or colostrum importance are all too familiar. They don’t often stick out, and we proceed onward.

Others, like signals from consumers, we expect to stick out as noticeably as traffic lights.

But these important signs don’t always flash brightly on the side of the road. In the late 1980s, it wasn’t big, bold lettering that called the industry’s attention to true consumer preferences.

It was a quiet sign on the side of the road that simply read, “Marbling.”

Today we see the significance. The number of cattle in the Select grade decreased by nearly half over the past decade. Consumer demand for beef, both domestically and abroad, is growing. The beef supply today is the best ever in quality grade, at unprecedented historic levels. At the same time, price spreads between Choice and Select have maintained.

All signs say we’re headed in the right direction.

It’s the result of small changes, incrementally over time, that brought us to this rise in quality, value and demand. Those who saw the marbling sign and headed in that directed have won in premiums and stronger demand for that growing share of all beef that is simply better today. Those who have stayed on the road to higher marbling have seen the continued opportunity to grow profits.

Moving into a new year is an ideal time to reflect on the understated signals directing us on what changes to make and where to double down.

Does that comment from your neighbor on trying genomic testing come to mind? Maybe it’s time to evaluate a creep feeding program or a rotational shift that will get this year’s spring calves off to the right start. This might be the year to elevate your bull selection criteria beyond what’s already working well, moving the target higher on traits that add value and demand, and could use some added performance in your herd.

Signals for needed change aren’t always obvious. We have to look for those signs. When we do so with an eye toward what matters most for the farm, ranch or herd in 2019, we might see some that don’t call for grand modifications, just small adjustments.

In planning for year ahead, look around for the familiar and new signs that nudge us to keep moving in the right direction.