I'm a Drover: Balancing act

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Farmer, rancher, dairyman, family man, NCBA president — each of those terms describes Scott George, whose family runs a diversified agricultural operation near Cody, in northwestern Wyoming.

Scott George and his family milk 550 Holsteins and run an Angus-based cow herd, marketing Holstein and beef steers at 700 to 900 pounds. George’s parents homesteaded the property in 1947. Prior to the arrival of homesteaders, the federal government operated an internment camp in the area for Japanese-Americans during World War II. After the war ended and the detainees were released, the government offered the 20-by-120-foot barracks to local farmers and ranchers. George’s family moved two of the buildings to its land and used the materials to build the original house and barns.

George says his parents started with nothing but gradually built a successful farming operation and raised eight kids on the farm. Today, George and two younger brothers run the operation along with five of his nephews.

The family farms 2,500 acres of row crops and hay, manages a commercial Angus-based cow-calf herd and operates a dairy, milking 550 head of Holsteins twice every day. The Georges raise some dairy replacement heifers for sale and also some Holstein bulls, which they sell to area Hutterite farmers. The brothers also run an artificial insemination service, teaching classes and breeding several thousand dairy and beef cows each year.

The family raises its Holstein steer calves as beef animals, growing them on the farm to 700 to 900 pounds. George says demand for Holstein feeder steers in the local area is weak, so he periodically transports groups to an auction facility in northern Colorado, where dairy-steer prices run higher.

The family’s beef-cow herd traditionally has been primarily Angus but recently has shifted toward Angus-Simmental crossbred bulls. Calving season on the operation begins in February, and they use a rotational grazing system for their cows and calves. The Georges wean their calves on the ranch, background them through the fall and typically sell them the following December or January, when they weigh 700 to 900 pounds. They keep some of the best crossbred male calves to sell as bulls.

George says the crossbred calves perform well and produce a high-value carcass, with a good balance between marbling and muscle. Depending on the market, the family will sell its calves through an auction or to neighbors who finish cattle.

George says the farm typically produces plenty of forage, allowing the family to keep its beef and dairy steers longer and grow them to yearling weight. The high cost of gain in the feedyard makes those 700- to 900-pound animals increasingly desirable to buyers.


Off-farm priorities

This year, George’s time on the farm will be limited as he travels the country representing NCBA. During the annual Cattle Industry Convention in Tampa early this year, George says NCBA members set the priorities that will occupy much of his time and attention during his term as president. The first priority, he says, is the farm bill. The current extension of the 2008 bill leaves considerable uncertainty over conservation and disaster-assistance programs and funding for research critical to beef producers.

Another issue facing producers this year is the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA), the law that allows the FDA to collect fees from animal health companies to facilitate the review process leading up to approval for new drugs. ADUFA is up for reauthorization this year, and activists are attempting to use the process to make it more difficult for companies to develop and release new products.

NCBA also will be working to overturn the EPA’s Draft Guidance for the Clean Water Act, which would expand the scope of the act by removing the term “navigable” from the definition of waters covered by its provisions.

Immigration issues present a complex challenge for the beef industry. George says producers, especially those near the Mexican border, need better enforcement of immigration laws. At the same time, many livestock operations depend on immigrant labor year-round, and the current H-2A visa program for temporary or seasonal agricultural work is not adequate in many cases. NCBA is working on immigration reform that will provide a viable and legal workforce for agriculture.

Trade rounds out the top-five issues George plans to pursue. He says the industry has had some big wins recently, with Japan relaxing its policy to allow U.S. beef from cattle 30 months of age or younger and free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Other countries such as China and Russia continue to impose trade barriers against U.S. beef based on non-scientific standards. NCBA will continue to work for broad market access for U.S. beef, with food-safety standards based on sound science.

In addition to wins in the trade arena, George says NCBA is especially proud of the role it played in finally securing a permanent agreement on the estate tax. The tax now is fixed at a maximum rate of 40 percent on assets over $5 million for individuals or $10 million for couples, instead of 55 percent on assets over $1 million. “We had to give a little on the interest rates,” he says, but a permanent law gives farmers and ranchers better ability to plan for transition in their operations.


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