'If You’re Not at the Table, You’re on the Menu’

10/27/2012 7:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent

NCBA Fighting for Beef Producers, President Says

WEYERS CAVE, Va. — When National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President J.D. Alexander paid a visit to the Shenandoah Valley last week, he saw cattle doing something they don’t do on his farm in Pilger, Neb.: stand on steep hillsides.

“We’re all in this together, but we all do things a little bit differently,” said Alexander, speaking before a crowd of nearly 200 people at Blue Ridge Community College.

Alexander, the featured speaker at an annual meeting hosted by two valley cattle farmers, Jim Koogler and Jeff Slaven, asked for the audience’s support of the NCBA, which he said is working hard to protect the beef industry from a variety of threats.

Though beef prices have been strong recently, he said farmers need to be proactive about environmental, economic and political challenges that lie ahead. The best way to meet these challenges, he said, is to make sure that farmers’ perspectives are heard and considered by policy makers and the public.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” said Alexander, who was named NCBA president earlier this year.

As an example of how the NCBA has been fighting on behalf of beef farmers recently, Alexander described the organization’s reaction to this summer’s publication of a memo on the USDA website promoting “Meatless Mondays” for agency employees.

Alexander said NCBA staff immediately called the USDA, and within 30 minutes, Alexander received a personal phone call from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who apologized for the incident and ensured the memo was promptly removed. The phone conversation led to an hour-long, face-to-face meeting the following week, during which Alexander and Vilsack discussed a variety of beef industry concerns.

Mentioning environmental regulation, a federal proposal (later abandoned) to restrict the ability of children to work on family farms, a looming increase to the estate tax, and ongoing public relations battles over animal welfare and food safety, Alexander portrayed his industry as one facing multiple, serious threats.

He also mentioned this year’s “pink slime” controversy (Alexander only used the industry term, “lean finely textured beef”) as an example of how misinformation and hysteria can hurt the cattle industry.

“This is where people from our industry need to speak up and say what the truth is,” said Alexander, who added that the NCBA’s issues management team worked hard to stay in front of that story as it developed.

Slaven, who has been hosting annual dinner events with Koogler for area cattle farmers for the past 12 years, agreed with Alexander’s assessment of the challenges facing the industry. Ironically, he noted, they come at a time when the country and the world is in greater need than ever of quality food.

Slaven also added that farmers’ sense of being under attack from external forces hostile to their way of life has grown continually worse over the years.

“The ag community has a history of not speaking out,” said Slaven, who farms in Augusta County. “But we can’t operate like that anymore.”

Scott Buchanan, another Augusta County beef farmer who attended the event, also agreed with Alexander’s emphasis on speaking out and being heard. Buchanan noted that task becomes ever more important as farmers make up an increasingly smaller percentage of the American population.

Because of their responsibilities on their farms, however, many farmers aren’t able to invest much time and energy into advocacy for their industry, Buchanan added. He said he’s fairly happy with the job that the NCBA is doing on farmers’ behalf.

Acknowledging the time and logistical constraints that are barriers to farmers’ presence “at the table,” Alexander ended his remarks with an appeal to those present to join the NCBA and other state and local industry organizations.<\c> Photo by Andrew Jenner



J.D. Alexander, left, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, chats with an unidentified Virginia cattleman Oct. 18 at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Va.





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