Cattle producers’ strength is powerful statement

Today’s beef producers have challenges but keynote speakers at High Plains Journal’s Cattle U and Trade Show, July 29 to 30, also noted that farmers and ranchers offer strength in numbers and unity can make a difference.

Besides keynote speakers, there were many educational seminars at Cattle U, which also had a trade show for producers to see the latest products and services available. Cattle U and Trade Show was at the United Wireless Arena, Dodge City, Kansas.

Yellowstone star thanks producers

Forrie J. Smith plays Lloyd Pierce in the Paramount Network hit show “Yellowstone,” and he is also a real-life cowboy. One reason he wanted to attend the event was that it was an opportunity to thank the men and women who feed America and the world.

Growing up on a ranch, he remembered his grandfather, as they were feeding and checking cattle, telling a young Forrie that it was going to be a tough year and likely an unprofitable one. He asked his grandfather why he continued to ranch. “Well son, we are feeding our country,” was his grandfather’s response. His grandfather had a 70-head cow-calf operation.

The relationship he invested in with his grandfather continues to pay invaluable dividends for Forrie and it was his grandfather who reminded him about the importance of being a good listener and to put yourself in a mode to constantly learn.

“The more you know about something the better off you’ll be,” Smith said.

That also means having the mindset of listening to others, even if you disagree with them at the time because perspective can change your opinion. He also says it was important to use the power of positive thinking to improve one’s self.

“Whatever you learn, hold onto it,” he said. “I tell kids to read and educate yourself.” Learning, he said, is a lifelong endeavor.

Smith also said that rural America can help show the rest of the country about the importance of working together because the High Plains is a neighborhood and regardless of skin color, faith or political affiliation, working for common good has always been a guiding principle.

Lessons learned

Troy and Stacy Hadrick, South Dakota ranchers, said authenticity and sincerity overcome myths that hurt agriculture’s story.

Their experience started when a New York Times article more than 15 years ago printed an article that painted the wrong picture about the cattle industry, and the Hadricks were quoted in the story. The Hadricks were trusting people and talked to the writer for six months but instead of it being a positive story, they were misled and the writer penned a negative piece about farmers and ranchers. Troy knew that hurt the industry.

However, the Hadricks did not turn inward but instead used the experience to serve as a reminder about the need to be responsible advocates for the livestock industry. They use social media as a tool that can help even the playing field.

Stacy Hadrick said it is important for famers and ranchers to stay viable so that future generations can also stay on the farm. That can only happen with being sincere and being a positive face for the industry.

One of Troy’s messages for farmers and ranchers is the overwhelmingly positive response people have about those who raise the food and fiber.

Stacy says people discuss climate change, fake meat and ballot initiatives—all examples the industry itself has faced and they are going to stay.

Troy said 70% of Americans are concerned about the environment, and farmers and ranchers are equally concerned and have a track record of taking care of the land and water.

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The couple said while facts are important, it is important to emphasize the story of producers and leverage the goodwill consumers have toward farmers and ranchers. Stacy said 88% of Americans trust farmers and ranchers and that is a powerful tool.

“Eighty-eight percent means we are influential,” Troy said.

They stressed three aspects they focus on—talk, teach and touch—and encourage others to do the same.

Even a 30-second elevator ride in the middle of the city is an opportunity to talk to a consumer, she said, adding it was important to stay positive and on message. Whether it is fake news or fake meat, consumers want to get the straight story and no can authentically articulate better than farmers and ranchers, Troy said.

One lesson he has learned is that while he and his wife and family are savvy with social media they try to stay within their strengths. Stacy says don’t let social media overwhelm you and to keep it simple. Her husband likes Twitter and she likes Instagram. The value is not always measured by numbers but rather the quality of the experience for the visitor.

They also look for new ways to engage consumers. A bunkhouse they converted for guests that turned out to be a blessing was the “Bunkhouse on the Prairie,” which has proven popular as an Airbnb and is attractive to city dwellers who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life for a vacation on the Plains. Stacy said it represents another opportunity to share their agricultural experiences with guests.

Their children also are proactive in telling the family’s story and they do it in a way that is unique to them. The Hadricks credit their children for expanding the reach.

Working together, sharing

Lane Nordlund, a Montana agricultural broadcaster who also ranches, opened the Cattle U and Trade Show, saying that farmers and ranchers are showing they can work together. Nordlund served as emcee throughout the two-day event and gave the kick-off speech.

He saw groups who might be opposed—from the meat-less day March 20 in Colorado, which turned into a meat-in day, to the most recent moment when livestock and farm organizations with diverse ideological views pulled together in Phoenix, Arizona, to discuss the beef markets—come together. That ultimately has led to greater discussions in Washington, D.C., and Nordlund is convinced that when agricultural interests unite much good occurs.

He knows firsthand that it can be done. Nordlund said agriculture is not a local issue but one with global implications. As a result he finds it refreshing to visit with consumers.

He remembers going to a restaurant several years ago in Washington, D.C., when a woman noted Nordlund had worn a cowboy hat into the restaurant. She asked him if he was a cowboy. She was from Chicago and she loved the taste of beef. A friend had told her corn-fed beef was bad for the environment, and he was able to explain to her the myth and the value that protein has in a diet, too.

“The gal was very inquisitive,” Nordlund said.

He was impressed with her sincerity. Nordlund told about his family’s operation in Montana and his ancestors’ trek to get there and the challenges his family and other producers have.

The woman also told him about the struggles inner-city Chicagoans face with violence and lack of nutrition. Nordlund said it was important for him to learn and understand her challenges, too, about the struggles poor families have to find gainful employment and put food on the table for children.

Nordlund learned she was a campaign aide who worked on behalf of former President Barack Obama. Yet she said Democratic Party had not spent enough time learning to understand rural and agriculture issues, which was why they had not fared well in rural areas that at one time were the party’s strength.

For Nordlund it served as a reminder that many urban people have a curiosity about farm and ranching operations. Opening up to others takes a mindset, particularly for rural people who tend to be more guarded.

“I had to take my guard down,” he said and in the process gained an urban friend who is likely to be one of the biggest advocates for farmers and ranchers in Chicago.

HPJ Publisher Zac Stuckey offered opening remarks and he noted the Western heritage of Dodge City and its rich cattle history. As the Cattle U and Trade Show was about to start, he said organizers wanted to provide a diverse education because of the diversity of farmers and ranchers in the High Plains. One of the best parts of an in-person show was that farmers and ranchers could network, whether it was in a formal presentation, on the trade show or with two people sharing a conversation.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].