Wyoming rancher Philip Ellis prepares to serve as NCBA president.
“I’m just a cattle rancher from Wyoming with an opportunity to serve.” While that may be true of Philip Ellis, NCBA president-elect who will take the reins of the organization during the 2015 Cattle Industry Convention in February, his genuine passion for and unwavering commitment to the U.S. beef-cattle industry has led him on a journey to the top volunteer-leadership position within the nation’s oldest and largest national organization representing America’s cattlemen and women.
Ellis’ family settled on Bear Creek in southeast Wyoming in the 1880s, and they remain in the area today. He is currently the majority owner and managing member of Marsh and Ellis Ranch, LLC, which he says is just “up the creek” from his great grandfather’s ranch. Ellis’ nephew has taken over the day-to-day operation of the ranch. “He’ll continue the family ranching tradition on the Marsh and Ellis Ranch,” Ellis says, noting that the seventh generation of his family is “on the ground.”
The ranch has evolved from a Hereford seedstock and summer yearling operation to a commercial Red Angus and Hereford crossbred “cow-yearling” operation. Ellis says they market long-yearling steers to feedlots in northern Colorado and raise and breed heifers for themselves and to market to local ranches.
A family tradition
While Ellis may be the first in his family to ascend to a leadership role within NCBA, generations before him began a tradition of involvement in cattle associations. “Going back with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), I can find membership records back 100 years. And even with NCBA, I have found membership records in predecessor organizations back in the 1940s.”
Ellis’ involvement began at the local level, with the Laramie County Stock Growers. From there, he says he became active in WSGA, participating in the committee process and then serving in leadership roles, including second vice president from 1996 to 1998, first vice president from 2001 to 2003 and president from 2003 to 2005.
He says those roles led him to be active and involved in NCBA. But it was his passion for promoting the industry and his fellow ranchers that drove him to run for NCBA volunteer-leadership roles, including Region V Vice President of the Policy Division and as a member of the NCBA Executive Committee.
That’s the how, but the “why” boils down to one word: Passion. “I’m really passionate about the people who take care of the land and the cattle. I’m also passionate about our product. We raise a protein source that is necessary for managing the land and is also the best source of protein for all families here at home and around the world. And NCBA is removing obstacles for our families, for our members who raise cattle, and providing opportunities for a better diet for families around the world.”
One M and three Ts
As with any good leader, Ellis has done his homework and has charted his priorities as president, which involve one M — marketing to millennials — and three Ts in the policy arena. Starting with beef promotion, he says NCBA, as a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, will continue working to better understand and, thus, better market to the millennial consumers. And he’s got a two-step process to advance that priority.
“First, we always need to take them seriously and their concerns seriously. Second, we need to communicate with them about our positive story about how raising beef is good for the land because they are very concerned about their future on this planet. We are taking that seriously as we listen to and answer their questions,” he explains.
The three Ts of policy for 2015 are taxes, trade and transportation, according to Ellis. Starting with taxes, Ellis says he’s hopeful that the “fresh wind blowing through Congress” may bring about some permanent reforms to the U.S. tax code, especially tax provisions he says cattlemen and women rely on for business management, including provisions related to land-use valuation and the use of cash accounting for agricultural operations, increasing Section 179 expensing requirements and providing long-term stability to that provision, and making permanent a five-year depreciation schedule for agricultural equipment.
On the trade front, Ellis says, passing Trade Promotion Authority and moving forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the European Union provide “huge” opportunities for beef in the global market.
The final T, one Ellis refers to as a nuts and bolts issue, is transportation. He says legislation to safely improve efficiency in the cattle business by increasing allowable truck weights and addressing required rest periods for truck drivers could be considered in 2015.
The 2014 midterm elections resulted in a change of power in the United States Senate, and Ellis says he is optimistic about the new Republican majority. “I am always optimistic; I think as ranchers we’ve got to be. Every spring we hope for green grass and a good calf crop. While I’m optimistic, I wouldn’t say that I can ever be confident. That’s why we work so hard in Washington, D.C., and never take anything for granted. But we’re doing our work to realize some of my optimism to move some of these issues forward and to be prepared to deal with any new issues that come up as the year goes along,” he says.
A huge honor and selfless commitment
Serving on the NCBA officer team is not only a huge honor for Ellis, it is a major commitment — one that will take him away from the ranch for two-thirds to three-quarters of the year. He says his family will “shoulder the load of the work” while he’s serving as president. The time away, though, is worth it to Ellis and he says wherever he goes throughout the country he’s home, even if it’s meeting with cattlemen he’s never met before on ranches he’s never visited.
While visiting with Ellis, it was clear that personal recognition is not what he seeks as president but rather to improve the industry and serve NCBA members. About the organization, he says NCBA is strong and growing, crediting the staff in Denver and Washington, D.C. “I’ve always been proud to be a member, and our family has always been proud to be members. But I’m especially proud of how the organization has been doing in the past few years. I hope everybody will look at it and take the opportunity to become a member and become involved. It will be a benefit to them, to their cattle operation and to the industry.”