Dairyman Heads Nation’s Largest Beef Organization

5/7/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

Charlene M. <\n>Shupp Espenshade

When Scott George was elected president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in February, the Wyoming dairyman and cow/calf producer broke the mold. As a dairy farmer, George brings a unique perspective to beef production.

“Quite honestly, it’s quite a compliment that recognizes the dairy business is a part of the beef industry,” he said.

When talking about the difference between his two operations, George said with his dairy cows, milk “goes into the pail,” and with his cow/calf operation, the milk goes directly from the cow “into the belly of his calves.”

George’s farm is based in Cody, Wyo. His parents homesteaded there in 1947 and established George Dairy in 1954. Today, the family farm has 550 Holsteins milked twice a day and a 100-cow/calf beef operation. In addition, George and his brothers, Arley and Lynn, have an ABS dealership.

The farm operation also raises 2,500 acres of alfalfa, corn and small grains. Their pasture, which is a mix of grasses, is used for the cow/calf beef operation and pregnant Holstein heifers.

The Holstein herd rolling herd average is 25,000 pounds on a twice-a-day milking. In addition to the cow/calf herd, they raise all of their Holstein bull calves to 700-900 pounds for a marketable weight.

George said he appreciates the unique perspective he brings to the nation’s beef issues. However, each beef producer has a unique perspective, he said, based on region and their participation in the beef industry — as a stocker, cow/calf operator, feedlot, veal producer or dairy producer, for example.

“This helps to have a well-rounded discussion,” he said.

With his dairy background, George has also traveled, talking to dairy organizations about beef issues.

For the past couple of months, George’s message to beef and dairy producers alike is that they are all part of the beef industry, and that both industries have several interests in common.

Attending a recent National Milk Producers Council meeting, he noted topics included immigration, labor and the marketing of cattle — issues that are important to beef producers.

Dairy beef is a notable part of the nation’s beef supply. More than one-quarter of the nation’s beef supply comes from dairy; however, George said dairy farmers need to improve their beef marketing.

At the recent dairy meeting, a meat packer talked about the challenges he has had with dairy beef. In particular, he discussed a dairy cull cow that his plant processed. They were forced to declare a beef recall when the dairy farmer called the next day and said the animal had not cleared the withholding period.

The meat packer told George, “We will warn you once, then we will never buy your animals again.”

George said he believes dairy producers need to take beef management seriously, using programs like the dairy beef quality assurance program.

“Nobody should be marketing animals with antibiotics on board,” he said, calling it a “black eye” of the dairy industry.

George said dairy farmers need to follow protocols.

“People are more concerned, Are the cattle being raised properly?’ We’ve developed dairy beef quality assurance as a checkoff contractor and it helps all producers, beef or dairy, so the consumer knows they are doing the right thing,” he said.

George said the beef industry can’t afford to lose dairy beef. For dairy farmers, it’s a significant secondary income stream as they sell bull calves and cull cows. Right now, there is money to be made with quality cull cattle.

With a beef herd at its smallest since 1952, beef prices and dairy cull prices are strong. George said cull prices are running between 70 and 75 cents per pound, and a farmer can easily garner more than $1,000 for a cull cow.

Last week, George met with his nephew to talk about potential culls. They sent a cow to market that his nephew placed on the list because of high somatic cell count. At first, George was unsure because she was a high producer; however, as the nephew pointed out, the cow was producing a high volume of low-quality milk. The cow was sold.

Dairy farmers need to sell their potential cull cows “when she is in good flesh,” he said. “Our margins are very small. It pays to very timely market our cattle.”

Right now, quality cull cows can bring close to the price for replacement heifers.

Beef prices are bringing positive returns. George said it does pose a challenge, with consumers swapping beef for other lower-cost protein options.

“We don’t want customers saying, I don’t know if I can afford this.’ We don’t want it to become a luxury item. We want it to be a value item,” he said, referencing the nutritional value of beef.

George said the beef industry has a wide range of producers with varying focus for the marketplace, ranging from those who raise veal or cow/calf operations to seedstock producers and feedlot producers. Plus, there are different production models like grain finished, grass-fed, all-natural or organic.

Leading an organization like NCBA, the differing models and perspectives can be interesting, but George said his goal is to make sure there are plenty of options available so customers can choose beef.

“I want them to make that choice, I don’t care what choice as long as they keep eating it,” he said

George is one of eight children. In addition to being in partnership with two of his brothers, five nephews work on the farm. The other siblings live in the area, and all of his nieces and nephews have worked on the farm at one point in time. However, he is aware that most youth do not get that kind of exposure to farming.

“Producers need to talk about what they do, not just the bad things, but the good things, too,” he said. “Young people need to look and say, That is something I can do.’ “

The average age of the U.S. beef producer is 59. George said farmers and ranchers need to get the next generation interested in farming. He has seen several older ranchers working out arrangements to get another generation on the farm.

As for what’s next for George, it’s advocating for the passage of a federal Farm Bill, not another extension for the program. Priorities include conservation funding, disaster funding and research dollars.

“We have seen some catastrophic disasters in the past couple of years,” he said of the need for funding.

And when talking about agricultural research, he points to his dairy herd. Today, his top cows produce 145 pounds of milk per day, nearly three times the level of his “best” cows in the 1960s. Research dollars are needed to continue to advance production yields to feed a growing world, he said.

If there is another important issue, it’s immigration reform.

“We don’t need seasonal workers. They need people who can work year-round,” he said of the needs of the beef industry.

George said reform is needed to improve border security for ranchers on the U.S. border, due to property damage and safety threats they face from illegal crossings.

Does milk have a lot of untapped potential in today’s competitive beverage market?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

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