CattleFax staff, supporters look back on 50
Centennial, Colo. (March 13, 2018) – Challenges to profitability in the cattle industry have been relentless throughout its history. Over the past 50 years, however, an organization created by cattle producers has helped effectively address those challenges.
Started in 1968, CattleFax is a member-owned organization that serves producers in all segments of the cattle and beef business. For half a century, it has been a global leader in beef industry research, analysis and information. Its exclusive industry database has set the standard for market information and analysis.
The organization has since its inception had supporters who saw the value of knowing the market and what it was going to do. Cattle producer Jeff Sparrowk, for instance, says his family has trusted and valued services provided by CattleFax for more than 40 years.
“My dad (Jack) has always been a big believer in CattleFax and what they do,” according to Jeff Sparrowk of Sparrowk Livestock, Clements, Calif. “They’ve helped us in our mission to sustain and improve an efficient, economically sound cattle operation since the 1960s.”
“If not on the ground floor, we were certainly early adopters,” according to Mark Frasier, Frasier Farms, Last Chance, Colo. “We relied heavily on the information and insights that CattleFax provided. We knew that information was key, and my father (Marshall) realized the value there.”
“You think of the 50 years that CattleFax has been around, and it’s a remarkable story,” says Tom Field, director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship program at the University of Nebraska, and a Colorado rancher. “What they’ve done is taken data and turned it into information.”
That information was critical in the 1960s to cattle producers, who believed their negotiating power for marketing their animals needed improvement. The answer was partially found in mining and sharing data.
“It felt like we needed our own information and data sharing business, where you could see some of the trends more frequently during the year, and also have our own double check on the system,” according to Randy Blach, CattleFax CEO. Still, it wasn’t a bed of roses as things got started.
“We knew the industry pretty well, but we didn’t know the markets nearly as well as our customers,” he said. “We would get schooled on a regular basis. But I think we were able to learn under fire. We had some of the greatest mentors and greatest teachers in the industry.”
One of those teachers was CattleFax’s first market analyst, Topper Thorpe. Thorpe became the CattleFax general manager in 1972, and for 30 years provided a steady hand for staff leadership and guidance. According to Blach, Thorpe helped revolution both the gathering and sharing of market information in the cattle industry, and allowed CattleFax to deliver the most complete, accurate information from which beef producers could make better marketing decisions.
Broader than Markets
Increasingly it wasn’t just cattle markets that were getting the attention of CattleFax, its staff and customers. Grain, weather, beef demand and competing proteins – not just domestically but globally – were carefully monitored.
“Whether it’s BSE or a 9/11 event, or the 2008 market crash, that volatility is something that we always have to be aware of, and try to understand, and be prepared for,” said Dale Smith, CattleFax president-elect from Amarillo, Texas. “CattleFax helps us expect and follow the things that impact our businesses.”
That foresight is appreciated by those who provide financial resources for cattlemen. “We think it’s important for our customers to minimize risk as much as they can,” according to Tom Jensen, senior vice president of the First National Bank of Omaha. “We think CattleFax gives them the tools to be successful in the marketplace with the volatility that we see today.”
Keeping up with the times to make sure producers had quality information on a timely basis, allowing them to make informed marketing decisions was a daily test for the staff. “Producers are so much more sophisticated today, and they look at the big picture, so it keeps our job challenging to keep on top of the data,” says Duane Lenz, CattleFax general manager. “Becaust they want to know data, they want to know the trends, and they want to know what’s going to happen in the market next week, next month, next year.”
But Blach says more than anyone it was the volunteer leaders who kept the mission on track and on point. “They’re really who made the difference in our business over time,” Blach says. “The people who have led this organization have carved out the long-term vision of the industry.”
Tom Field says the future for the organization is more than bright – it’s crucial for cattle producers. “The value of CattleFax will only go up,” he says. “They will help us better interpret and sort through data. The other thing I anticipate is we will gain a competitive advantage, in that we will have access to a trend faster than our competitors, because of our affiliation with this organization.”