A few weeks ago, Jimmy Maxey was elected Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) members to serve as CBB chairman during the 2015 Cattle Industry Annual Convention in San Antonio, Texas. Few people know the industry, from the working ranch to the family dinner plate - as well as Maxey. His background makes him perfectly placed to lead CBB during one of the most important years of its existence.
In an earlier interview, he explained his unique background: "My mom and dad raised livestock in the California Delta on one of the islands and when the levy broke (in 1950), it was no longer economically feasible for them to stay there farming. They moved back to Fresno and in January 1951, bought a small ranch and continued in the livestock business but started over by going to work for a national meat-packing company. My father started on his own in the meat business in 1954. I was raised working cattle and working in a meat-processing plant."
Maxey has fed cattle, harvested them and marketed beef to restaurants and retailers, making him one of the very few people with end-to-end, hands-on management experience within every part of a fractionalized industry. He served as president and chairman of the National Meat Association in 2008.
In 2012, he helped navigate that organization’s transition when the NMA consolidated with the North American Meat Processors Association to become the North American Meat Association. That organization is now part of the much larger and more influential North American Meat Institute. He was also chairman of the California Beef Council and served on the California State University – Fresno Animal Science Advisory Board.
Talking about the problems the industry faces, he said, "We are very segmented, and one of my goals is to help to bridge that gap. Each segment has to understand the other - from cow calf producer to beef processor. We have to make sure we can all work together to achieve an appropriate return on our investment."
Taking the reins of CBB and trying to guide it through the next 12 months means a lot of goals need to be set, though. "We need to find industry unity around the checkoff," he said as he placed one of the most crucial issues at the forefront of his personal to-do list. "The checkoff really works hard to enhance beef’s image," he said. "It returns $11.20 for every dollar invested, money that wouldn’t be in producers’ pockets if it didn’t exist."
"I'll be working hard with all the associations and contractors we work with to achieve that unity. A lot of other things need to be accomplished, too, like looking at the dietary guidelines, getting the proper science and research out there, and giving people the right information about the nutritional value of our products. We need to be on target with our messages about food safety, the environment, animal welfare - all of those things are important."
"We are America's favorite protein in my book and I think in a lot of people’s book. But I think consumers have questions about nutrition and the environmental impact of the beef industry. We need to reinforce to them that beef is both a valuable and enjoyable part of their diet."
During the San Antonio Convention, he expressed a desire to develop a sense of trust with a new generation of consumers. "Communicating our story is quite possibly our biggest challenge," he said. "We need to counter some of the arguments used by people with an anti-ag or anti-meat agenda and help consumers understand they’re getting a nutrient-dense product that is part of a healthy diet, and that cattlemen are truly some of the first environmentalists."
The CBB is faced with a declining bank account, however, making some of his goals difficult to achieve. "Hopefully we can better leverage some of those dollars. With a smaller herd, we know our funds are not going to increase. We'll have to work harder but the future looks better. In my opinion, there is a new economic incentive to increase the herd. A lot of it has to do with better weather and improved pastures. We're beating the drought, even here in California, but we're not over it by a long way."
The more immediate upbeat side of things as he sees it are the people and organizations who will be helping. "We have a wonderful staff headed up by Polly Ruhland," he said. "They're focused on doing a great job for the industry. We have a great group of contractors, too; organizations like the Farm Bureau, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), the National Livestock Producers Association (NLPA), American National CattleWomen (ANCW), The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the Meat Importers Council of America (MICA). And there is not a better group of people to be around than our board members. I've been in all phases of this business - cow/calf to processing - and the entire cattle network is a great place to be."