4/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Trust. This is the key component the U. S. beef industry needs to build to stay on top both at home and around the world, according to the CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, or NCBA.
Forrest Roberts brought his message to a group of Virginia beef cattle leaders during an April 10 dinner meeting at Virginia Tech sponsored by the New River Cattlemen’s Association and Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Roberts was quick to say that he does not have all the answers for the industry, but he has a passion for beef and sees his job as CEO of the group to travel all over the world to promote it.
He arrived in Blacksburg at dinnertime after spending most of the day on Capitol Hill in Washington advocating for the industry. Roberts explained that NCBA is funded by the largest portion of beef checkoff money to promote beef and encourage producer profits.
The national $1-per-head beef checkoff program became a driving force in the industry on Oct. 1, 1986. It’s been reported that the checkoff collects $80 million a year for promotion and marketing.
The NCBA became the major promotional agency for the beef industry in January 1996 when the Beef Industry Council of the Meat Board and the National Cattlemen’s Association merged. At that time, the organization signed joint operating agreements with its primary industry partners, the Beef Promotion and Research Board, the American National CattleWomen and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Roberts promised to cover five chapters of a book and he kept that promise, moving quickly through many topics of importance to the industry in a nearly two-hour presentation.
Building trust and building growth in the industry are two of the key things he presented to the more than 30 people gathered inside the Alphine-Stuart Building on the Virginia Tech campus.
“For us to grow as a country, we have to build trust and build growth,” he said. He sees the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement being negotiated between the U.S., Asian and South American countries, as the opportunity of a lifetime for the U. S. beef industry.
He said there must be trust in everything the cattle industry does and that it requires discipline and focus. He urged the audience to keep in mind that the beef industry is global,
Roberts talked about “our organization, our challenge, our opportunity and our goals.” He said that at some point, there is something connected to family businesses in each of these.
While the U. S. is not the largest beef producer in the world, it is envied by other beef-producing countries for what he called its “phenomenal efficiency” in producing beef people want to eat. He talked about being told by a woman in a large marketplace in another country, where beef was available, that “I like U.S. Beef. It tastes better.”
At home, where beef is often under fire, there is a big opportunity to understand how it fits into “pop culture” and to use that knowledge to promote the product. It also needs to become known as part of a heart healthy diet, he said.
Roberts said the industry needs to work to turn around current government guidelines and see how the recommendation for school lunch programs — which recommends a 1-ounce serving of beef — impacts the industry.
He suggested that the industry become more aware of changing preferences in protein sources and target those who make the decisions. The need, he said, is to help people base their decisions with confidence that the meat is produced in such a way that meets their values and doesn’t harm their health.
In looking at the global beef situation, Roberts said the U.S. needs to watch Brazil. He said Brazil is watching the U.S. and is amazed by something it does not have: infrastructure.
He pointed to this country’s farm-to-market system of paved roads, saying that if Brazil “had the infrastructure like the USA, it would be a total different game. Worldwide they marvel at our infrastructure.”
He noted that most farm-to-market roads in Brazil are dirt or gravel.
While hailing U. S. infrastructure, Roberts pointed to the loss of feedyards in Texas — 58 have been sold — and the loss of packing plants. These are things that are difficult to replace, he said, adding that there could be more loss of infrastructure downstream.
Roberts list of priority issues for 2014 includes importation of Brazilian beef, dietary guidelines, trade, the Grazing Improvement Act and the waters of the United States.
He said there are many complicated issues and decisions to be made and called for everyone in the industry to be involved in these discussions.