4/6/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
Charlene M. <\n>Shupp Espenshade
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — All cattle eventually enter the beef market. It’s something National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Scott George is reminded of every day on his dairy farm.
George was the keynote speaker at the Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association’s annual meeting last week at Celebration Hall in State College.
“It’s kind of an interesting situation, I am actually a dairy farmer from Cody, Wyo.,” he said. His parents homesteaded there in 1947.
As he advocates for the organization, George said he often hears from farmers that they don’t produce beef. He disagrees, if they have cattle, they ultimately produce beef.
Scott is the second generation on his family’s dairy and cow/calf operation. The farm is run in partnership with his brothers, Arley and Lynn. They produce corn silage, earlage and hay for the beef and dairy herds.
His dairy cows’ primary function is milk, while the beef cows in his cow/calf operation are there to provide the next generation of calves.
However, “every one of those animals have a change of career and become a part of the beef industry,” he said.
It’s a message George has carried as he travels across the country leading one of the nation’s largest beef associations, representing more than 230,000 cattle breeders, producers and feeders.
Talking about sustainability, George said that McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. beef buyers, have incorporated a sustainability element to contracting.
The question lies in what makes a sustainable beef supply. The companies teamed up with other organizations to contract a researcher from Arkansas to develop a set of sustainable standards for beef production.
The researcher concluded that one thing the beef industry could do was milk beef cows.
Yet beef and dairy cows have been bred for specific production traits.
“There’s a significance difference between how these cows convert feed,” George said.
NCBA has countered by funding a study of its own looking at defining a sustainable beef farm and industry. The three aspects of the study are financial, environmental and social.
The NCBA study shows that advances made in the industry have resulted in a “greener” beef product, he said.
Reviewing the meat packing industry, the study shows how packers consume less water because they have installed systems that recycle water. They have also captured biogases and now convert it to electricity.
The study is going through peer review right now and will be released in the near future.
Within days after being elected president in February at the NCBA annual meeting, George was faced with his first challenge — sequestration. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that there would be furloughs for meat inspectors this summer because of the mandatory federal spending cuts.
“All meat has to be federally inspected,” he said. “That meant those operations could not function,” if the inspectors were not in the plant. The furloughs would cause a backup in the beef industry.
George said producers have target dates for finishing steers. A plant shutdown would cause a backup in harvesting. This in turn, would mean farmers would have to feed their cattle longer, raising their feeding costs.
“It would have impacted all of us,” he said.
The higher costs to the feeders would have affected their ability to purchase their next crop of cattle, placing a downward pressure on the industry.
Last month, Congress passed a measure to allow USDA to shift funds around in its budget to fund the inspectors, adverting the furloughs.
Farm Bill is on George’s mind as well. Congress opted to reauthorize the current bill last year, saying it would work on the national agricultural program package in 2013.
Joking, George said that as a dairy farmer he was excited last December at the potential for $38 per hundredweight for milk if the extension were not passed, returning milk pricing back to the 1949 permanent law.
“There are some things that are going to happen to the Farm Bill,” he said.
Many of the programs like direct payments, counter-cyclical payments and other subsidy programs will most likely be eliminated.
Three programs he lists as a priority are conservation programs, disaster programs — including crop insurance — and ag research.
“Agricultural research dollars are just plummeting,” he said.
The final topic he touched upon was antibiotic use in livestock. The animal drug use fee is up for renewal. This program is a part of the commercial approval process for livestock antibiotics.
George said there are people who look at this renewal as a way to slow the development of new products. Many opponents to this renewal believe antibiotics should be reserved for human use.
Also speaking was Matthew Meals, Pennsylvania deputy agriculture secretary, who noted that it’s budget season in Harrisburg.
In addition to describing the funding increases for fairs and animal health, Meals spoke about the 25th anniversary for state farmland preservation.
“We have set the standard for farmland preservation” in number of farms and acres preserved, he said.
Meals said the Pennsylvania Tested Bull Sale celebrated its 40th anniversary March 29.
“The partnership between the department, the industry and Penn State University has come to change the industry,” he said, praising the genetic progress made through the program.
PA Preferred, the state’s agricultural product branding program, has been going through an overhaul the past couple of years since the legislation passed making it the state’s permanent program. Meals said the department has had to redesign the program to match the law and is still working on the beef label guidelines.
“We are looking at what is PA Preferred Beef, so that when at a grocery store or somewhere else has the PA Preferred label, what does that label mean?” he said.
Meals said he hopes the rules will be finalized soon.
The association also presented its annual awards. Winners are:
Legacy Scholarship Award
Elizabeth Palmer, Amanda Mosier, Jenna Siegel
and Joy Beam
Pennsylvania Beef Ambassador
Top Hand Award
Environmental Stewardship Award
Junior Cattleman Award
Junior Cattlewoman Award
Industry Service Award