Black Ink: Finding the common ground in ag


They say it takes all kinds to make the world, and the adage is all about people. Look around the mall, watch TV or check out the Internet and you find ready evidence of the individuality of individuals.

Look at the world of ideas out there — maybe way out there — in politics, government and economics.

Most of us share some common ideals such as a respect for life, liberty and equality. We believe in that unique spark, call it a soul, that makes us human and drives us to achieve. With that spark comes the fire of independence as another basic ideal, especially in agriculture. We all like to do things our way, starting with a brand of truck or breed of cattle.


Some like green tractors, others like red. Some build only barbwire fences, others use woven net or rely on electricity. Some spend evenings checking email, or check every smartphone buzz; others roll their eyes at the thought of computers. Horses are part of the deal for some while others ride four-wheelers.

There are millions of ways to raise cattle, too, if you consider that no two farms or ranches around the world operate exactly the same.

Cattle production

Even in North America, where there is more common ground in cattle production, there are still great differences. We may take issue with the genetic selection, management and marketing program across the road, not to mention what is going on a couple of states away.

Yet this business is driven by the need to make consistent profits, to keep the lifestyle going. Among all of those subsets of people, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, you can find a commitment to raising the kind of beef people rave about. They aim for the high-quality beef target because it pays now and it builds demand for their future.

Commercial feedlots

Sure, they find their own ways, but nearly all of their cattle are fed grain in commercial feedlots for at least the four to six months before harvest. Diversity in genetics is a useful resource in the big picture, but it works best not to have too much of it in one herd. Too much of that good thing makes it impossible to zero in on any target.

Within those feedlots, any diversity in placements on feed is magnified before harvest. For example, a Kansas yard that analyzed records on many thousands of cattle for more than a decade found a range of at least 4 pounds (lb.) daily gain among the most variable quarter of cattle pens. Times 150 days on feed, that meant starting weights grew apart by 600 lb.

Value spread

A similar spread is apparent in terms of quality grade. Even without the weight difference, premiums and discounts can create a value spread of $500 or more.

The need for maintaining common ground extends through every segment of the beef industry, through the packinghouse and all the way to the consumer. Although all beef buyers are individuals, they come together on the issue of wanting predictable value for their beef dollars.


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