Correction: Mike Callicrate is the named plaintiff on the lawsuit mentioned in this article. It was not filed by Organization for Competitive Markets, of which he is president.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Leather boots and cowboy hats descended upon Wayne and Holmes counties the weekend of Aug. 17-19, for the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Roundup.
There were plenty of other styles, as well, but the event drew a couple hundred people who showed tell-tale signs they belonged to the beef industry.
The event started Friday evening with a meal at Certified Angus Beef’s new Education & Culinary Center. Guests were given an overview of the company and some of the newest cuts of beef on the market.
On Saturday, the group got an early morning update from the president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — J.D. Alexander. He hails from Pilger, Neb., and owns a 2,000-acre crop farm that markets about 15,000 head of cattle per year.
He talked about a host of issues facing cattle farmers, from legislation in Washington, to protecting the industry from attacks by animal rights groups. He also encouraged the group to support the beef checkoff program, and assured them it’s representing their interests.
“We’re all in it together and we’ve got to work together to make sure that we keep things (going) for the next generation,” he said.
He commended Ohio farmers for their ongoing effort to increase the amount given to their checkoff program. If successful, Ohio will join about seven other states that have similar programs.
“Nobody else is going to be out there promoting our product,” he said. “We’ve got to do that ourselves.”
A current issue facing beef producers is an Aug. 10 lawsuit against their checkoff program and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, filed by Mike Callicrate, now-president of Organization for Competitive Markets — which has partnered with the animal rights organization Humane Society of the United States. Callicrate alleges misspending of funds, among other things.
“This is very disgusting,” Alexander said. “When an organization teams with an organization like HSUS, that is not good. … This is an organization — HSUS — that wants you and I out of business.”
Alexander said representation is key, and farmers can represent themselves on their own, but often don’t have the time to do what the checkoff and national beef organization can do.
A recent success story, he said, was getting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify and retract its effort to declare Monday, a Meatless Monday. Alexander said national cattlemen staff contacted USDA almost immediately, and he got a call from the secretary of agriculture within hours, apologizing for what happened.
“If you’re not represented, people can have their input and sway the thinking,” he said.
Alexander also encouraged action on the 2012 farm bill. The U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan version June 21, but the House has yet to vote on the bill, and is on recess through the first week of September. The 2008 farm bill expires Sept. 30.
“Let’s get the farm bill passed in whatever form it’s going to be,” he said, “so at least we know what we’re dealing with, and then we can help address different issues.”
One of those issues is drought — which has affected nearly all of Ohio and the Midwest and West. Alexander said conditions in Ohio are not as bad as other states, but the crop year is still off.
Glen Dolezal, of Cargill Meat Solutions, the largest processor of ground beef in the world, said cattle numbers are down and so is butchering.
“We have the capacity to harvest 9.5 million cattle annually,” he said. “We won’t do that this year because the numbers are down.”
He said total U.S. cattle numbers are not expected to rebound until 2016. The market will remain tight and producers who have ample mother cows and feed supply, will be “sitting in a pretty good position.”
The short cattle supply has already had an effect in the grocery store, where Dolezal said it’s common to see steaks sell for $12 or more a pound.
“It is expensive, but so is everything else,” he said.
The afternoon featured a stop at Ohio State University’s Beef & Sheep Centers, and Acker Farms. Researchers Francis Fluharty and Steve Loerch talked about the improvements to beef efficiency over the years, which have seen average live weights increase from about 1,050 pounds 30 years ago, to about 1,250 pounds today.
At the OSU facility, more than 90 percent of the cattle raised are finishing choice, and are being studied for greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to other things.
Fluharty said what they’re finding is, grain-fed beef are actually producing less greenhouse gasses than grass-fed, because the cattle are more efficient and are kept for less time.
“It is hands-down that you get more greenhouse gas production per pound of product with the grass-fed animal that’s been around for 18 months,” he said. “That fermentation and that rumen from forages is not as efficient as when there are more grains in that diet,” he said.
Auctioneer and cattle rancher Dave Acker welcomed the group to his beef farm, just south of Wooster. He’s raised beef for many years, but started his own branded program — Acker Grillin’ Beef — about four years ago, “mainly because people want to know where their beef comes from.”
His cattle are bred and raised on the farm and processed locally. He currently has about 120 head of freezer beef and sells them most weeks of the year.
Large retailers, he said, “give you a choice of three countries where their beef came from. We give you a choice of two townships where our beef came from.”
Other stops on the tour included Paint Valley Farms in western Holmes County, where the Lee Miller family raises registered Shorthorn cattle. The family sells show cattle for local and national shows and uses advanced breeding technology to produce 30 spring calving and 30 fall calving cows.
The tour also included the Wooster Cargill Feed Plant, with dinner catered by Turk Brothers of Ahland County. The feed plant manufactures 50,000 tons of bagged Nutrena feed a year and was named Feed Mill of the Year by the American Feed Industry Association.