Tom Field talks beef business on Capitol Hill
April 1, 2011
WASHINGTON – The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) kicked off its Beef 101 series Tuesday, March 22, 2011. Beef 101 is a beef educational series exclusively for members of Congress and their staff members. The program, now in its third year, was developed to bridge the knowledge gap between elected policymakers and the U.S. beef industry. According to NCBA Executive Director of Legislative Affairs Kristina Butts, the recent session was the first in 2011 and focused on the basics of beef production in the U.S.
“These sessions are purely educational. It is important for our elected leaders to understand modern beef production in order to make informed decisions that are based on reality, rather than propaganda,” said Butts, who founded the program during the 111th Congress.
The session featured NCBA Executive Director of Producer Education Tom Field, Ph.D., who gave a general overview of the U.S. beef industry. He told the more than 70 attendees that the beef industry, which contributes approximately $44 billion annually to the U.S. economy in farm gate receipts, is by and large family owned. He explained the notion of factory farms was an attempt by extremists to muddy the facts.
“When decisions are made that hurt the beef industry, it isn’t so-called factories that go out of business. It’s people like me who suffer. We are talking about families that care for their animals better than anyone in the world,” said Field, who runs a family cattle operation with his two brothers in Parlin, CO. “These families are going to be tasked, in the not-so distant future, with feeding a population equivalent to two Chinas. We can’t afford to lose them.”
Field explained that the current beef industry is made up of 742,000 beef herds totaling 30.9 million cows and 26.7 million feeder calves. Since 1987, nearly 300,000 producers have exited the cattle business, leaving the U.S. with the lowest cattle inventory since World War II. This decline, which Field calls the industry’s gravest worry, even continued during a “relatively high level” of profitability from 1999-2010. He said drought; land values; input costs; downward turn of the U.S. economy; increasing age of the average cattlemen; propaganda overload; and unprecedented government regulatory overreach are all major contributing factors to the decreasing cattle inventory. However, he emphasized how efficient and skilled U.S. cattlemen and women are. He said the U.S. accounts for 7 percent of the world’s cattle, but provides 20 percent of global beef production. This is unmatched by any other country.