Will Frazee says he’s been serving the cattle industry for ‘a number of years’ just like a lot of his Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) friends.  And like a lot of that service-oriented group, he was born into it.  He’s a fourth-generation farmer and he has a son who’s ready to become the fifth generation. 

Frazee is past chair of the Iowa Beef Industry Council, past chair of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Foundation, president of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau, a member of the Strahan United Methodist Church and active in Montgomery County 4-H.  In his spare time he raises grain and livestock near Emerson, Iowa, in the southwest corner of the state. It’s a nearly century old family farm consisting of a small feedlot and pasture where he practices rotational grazing to background light calves prior to finishing.

“I moved back here in the spring of 1981 when I graduated from Iowa State University,” he said.  “I grew up with corn and soybeans and 4-H and showing steers at the county fair.

Today we own some land, lease some from other families – we’re spread out about 20 miles.  We still grow corn, soybeans and some hay.  We have about 600 head and we have to ‘hay ‘em or feed ‘em’ and this drought has made it a lot more expensive.”

He’s helped by his son Curt who allows him the time to be away from the farm to serve on the CBB and all those other organizations. He can count on his daughter Krista, too, when he needs her.  She works in a hospital in Sioux Falls, about 3 ½ hours north of the farm. 

“My wife, Deb, also helps when she’s not working as a vocational rehabilitation counselor with an insurance company.”

There’s an extended family that he can call on, too.  Curt has two step children with his wife Jennifer, and they’ve adopted a third child.  “Dallas is 18 and Damian is 12.  Kailynn, their daughter, is just 8 years old.”

How about the weather? I asked.  It’s always an important question in Iowa but even more so this year.  “We were really dry this spring,” he said, “but we had some rain in June – 8 inches in about 10 days.  Right now I think we’ll be at 70% of a normal crop. We’re lucky here, though.  I went to the summer conference and talked with some people who were hurt a lot more by the heat.”

He was concerned about how much the price of corn has gone up but he can mix in wet distiller’s grains to help alleviate the cost.  “We’re close to sources of supply for WDG’s.  There are three ethanol plants within 50 miles and I can share deliveries with my neighbor.” 

Frazee is in his fifth year on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, almost at the end of his second term and the time when he’ll have to step down to make room for another cattleman to begin service.  He’s spent three years on the Executive Committee and is a New Product and Culinary Initiatives committee member, too. 

It’s the latter committee that seems to excite him the most.  He talked about working with companies to do research on new products and the excitement of discovering value cuts.  He thought the flat iron steak, a product that has been available for over a decade, was one of the committee’s greatest successes. 

“The flat iron is now on the menu at a lot of restaurants.  It’s added about $12 to a carcass.  We’re responsible for the shoulder tender and the Denver cut, too,” he said.  “The shoulder tender has gone from $2.99 a pound to $7.99 a pound, putting some added value into the carcass.  We also want to look at ways to bring a more convenient product to the consumer like pre-cooked roasts and heat-and-eat products. 

“Work like that is what gets me excited about the checkoff,” he said.  “Working with the CBB has been a lot of fun.  I got to meet a lot of interesting people and we tackled a lot of challenges.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.