BeefTalk: How do we get the next generation to raise beef?

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"Cattle and crops: Together we stand, divided we fall." Among the numerous commentaries on agriculture, is that really true?

The other day, I had a major flashback. I climbed in a new tractor and sat down.

I had this unearthly feeling that I was sitting in the cockpit of a major jet.

Sophisticated would be an understatement. There was nothing remaining of the controls I used to know well.

The flashback put me in the seat of an International 806 tractor with no cab, pulling a John Deere combine with a long-forgotten model number. The field was an average field of barley with the windrows running west to east. A strong wind was blowing from the west and the day was a typical hot, late-afternoon harvest day.

Having waited most of the day for the grain to dry, Dad finally said it was time and I was to run the tractor and combine. I became a livestock specialist that day. The thought of any more time spent sitting on a tractor with no cab, trying to avoid the rough awns of a barley plant freshly separated from the seed, still sends shivers down my spine. There was no way to avoid the inevitable. Barley dust and chaff settled on my neck and slowly crept down my back. Ultimately, it spread to every square inch of my body and slowly mingled with my harvest sweat.

It was tolerable while driving straight. I was hunched over and keeping still while focusing on moving forward. However, when I had to turn the tractor, I had to move my arms and let go of my shirt collar, which caused the dust to pour down my back. Oh, the joys of farming in those days!

Sitting in the new tractor, I looked up at the air conditioner and dust filters.

Shutting the door produced a whole new environment. It was an environment that I had never been in before. The flat-screen monitor was prominent and had several color-coded pads that help operate the tractor.

I am sure the operators manual would explain in detail what each function was, although the radio controls and foot pedals still were recognizable. It was obvious that the tractor was environmentally and operator-friendly. One probably could add joy to the equation.

Somehow, my upbringing and the current world of farming are so disconnected that I almost could become a farmer, which is a world I bypassed in favor of cows and sheep. They seemed simpler and more welcoming than those old tractors, plows, combines and dusty grain bins.

Maybe it was the time my brother slammed my head between the auger motor and grain bin that sealed my farming fate. However, things have changed. My stay in the new tractor was not long. While getting off the tractor, I wondered why anyone would want to raise cattle or sheep when one could have this machine.

Maybe the thought is misplaced or I am overstating, but that tractor was nice.

The future of the beef industry needs young people. Young people are technology driven and certainly understand the difference between nice and not so nice. Let me state again: Cattle and crops, together we stand, divided we fall. Among the numerous commentaries on agriculture, is that really true?

The economic pressure from added revenue from acres dedicated to crops versus cattle remains startling. The added dollar, even with the added expenses, draws young people into crop production. Those already involved in extensive crop production have no problem with expansion. The expansion comes through technology and engineering, and crop production uses it all.

Cattle production also could. The horse and saddle have not changed, but the chute side has. Technology-rich scales and tech-savvy ear tags are available but generally go unused. We still see the nice ranch pictures of people gathering at branding time. However, at the end of the day, most push their self-starting pickup keys and go back to town. They hope to be on time to catch up with the kids' activities. This is the world we live in.

Pondering is all right, but ranting is generally useless. However, how is the beef industry going to move forward and not become a short reflection in an old history book? Maybe the answer is like crop production. Sitting on one's laurels and enjoying the past will not position young people to meet the challenges of an evolving world.

While picking up a beef publication, my eyes found an article on how to get the next generation to eat beef. The program was commendable and certainly needed.

Perhaps there is a bigger question: How do we get the next generation to raise beef? That question certainly needs to be addressed. Are we tech savvy enough to survive?

May you find all your ear tags.

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T. S. Chisolm    
Lubbock, Tx.  |  May, 17, 2013 at 09:49 AM

Did Joe Kennedy's brood keep smuggling booze? Are the Carnegies still smelting iron? Is Bill Gates still squinting into a monitor, hacking away at computer code? Who wants their kids to have to work for a living? And now who has to? Just make sure inheritance taxes are beaten back and we all can pass along to the kiddos the windfall fortune our overpriced beef is piling up in the bank. And the spiraling values of farm land. When I'm gone the kids will have a big fat trust fund to keep them and all my descendants fat and happy. If any one of them takes a real job they will be written out of my will. They don't need some crappy paycheck when I am becoming so wealthy all of a sudden. A splendid legacy, all thanks to windfall beef prices from now on.

SD  |  May, 20, 2013 at 08:38 PM

And here I am, feeling guilty because we let our kids and now, our grandkids and greatgrand baby learn to love raising cattle.......all the while knowing the very heard work is not adequately paid for in the marketplace......even yet! As in, when prices for cattle rise, our costs of raising those cattle raise even faster!!!! Not to mention the obscene costs of trying to 'save the ranch' from the truly evil and dangerous 'estate taxes'.

Atlanta, Georgia  |  May, 21, 2013 at 10:42 AM

Don't you think you should first figure out how to get the next generation able to afford to EAT beef before worrying about who will produce it? The way things are going only the richest Americans will be able to enjoy beef but they can have anything they want. If they want a little beef someone will produce it, just like when they want private jets or designer drugs. The last thing we will need is a lot of rejected little backyard cattle producers growing scrawny overpriced carcasses when the trendy rich gentle folk decide they want African bushmeat or Nepalese bean curd.

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