Just the thought of taking a course, doing homework and taking a test brought me right back to my nightmare of organic chemistry at Iowa State in the late 1980s (and I’m sure my dad would agree since he saw my grades), but Course One of the Masters of Beef Advocacy program was exciting, fun and though-provoking. AND I got all 10 questions on the quiz correct the first time!

Course One, Modern Beef Production, is a refresher course about our beef industry, such as the number of producers, average herd size, how cattle are raised (cow-calf, stocker, feedlot), etc. It also covers the differences and definitions of conventional, organic, grass-fed and natural. What I particularly liked about it was that the underlying message was that no matter how beef is raised, it is safe, wholesome and nutritious.

Daren Williams, Executive Director, NCBA Communications and MBA Dean of Students says, “If I could sum up the Modern Beef Production course, I would say, ‘All beef is good.’ We have hundreds of different beef production systems across this great country and all are employed for good reasons. Some areas have year-round access to grass; some have abundant supplies of high quality grain; others have local consumers demanding organic or natural beef. As U.S. beef producers our goal is to provide a year-round supply of safe, wholesome and nutritious beef utilizing a variety of production methods to meet consumer demand.”

At the end of the course I had a homework assignment which was reading an online article about beef production. I had to write a 50-word commentary/response. This forced me to gather my thoughts in a concise manner instead of rambling on. Then, I was asked a series of questions about raising beef from a producer’s point of view. Again, my answers needed to be concise about beef in general, no matter how it was raised, and I could see the value in repeating some of the same key messages each time, such “beef is safe, wholesome and nutritious.” Then I took the dreaded quiz and passed with flying colors.

I asked Williams about the MBA’s strategy of forcing participants to think clearly and concisely in their homework responses. “The essay questions and homework assignments in each of the courses are designed to engage students in telling the modern beef production story in their own words,” he said. “We need critical thinkers who can read an article like the one in this homework assignment, assess the information or misinformation in the article, and craft a concise response that delivers on both ration and passion. Unlike many activist groups we won’t be writing letters-to-the-editor and asking people to just sign their name at the bottom. We want our beef advocates to think for themselves.”

It is important for beef producers to understand today’s consumer as they prepare to talk to them and answer their questions about modern beef production, Williams said. “It is critically important that we don’t fall into the trap of marketing one production method over another because that sends a mixed signal to consumers. If we send the signal that one type of beef is safer or more nutritious than the other we risk confusing consumers and driving them to choose another protein altogether. All beef meets the same safety standards and is a good or excellent source of the same 10 essential nutrients and vitamins regardless of whether is it grass-fed, grain-finished, natural or organic.”

Just after Course One I feel a little better equipped to address someone’s questions in a more concise and “user-friendly” manner than I would have before. So stay tuned for my next installment which will be about my experience with Course Two, Animal Care, and my continuing journey in the Masters of Beef Advocacy program.