Britton Blair: Valuable lessons from Young Cattlemen’s Conference
June 23, 2011
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Young Cattlemen’s Conference (YCC) was held June 1-9, 2011. The YCC program is a comprehensive, nationwide tour of beef industry sectors, created to enhance leadership skills in young beef industry professionals.
One of those participants representing South Dakota was Britton Blair of Blair Brothers Angus, Sturgis, SD. Blair was sponsored by the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association (SDCA), where he serves as the SDCA Young Producer’s Council (YPC) President. Although he was nervous to leave the ranch behind for 10 days during artificial insemination (AI) season, Blair said the lessons learned during YCC will prove valuable to his family’s operation for a lifetime.
“I learned so much about every segment of our industry while on this trip,” recapped Blair. “The networking opportunities with industry leaders from across the country allowed me to grow my contact list to include individuals in every segment of the beef business to help grow my operation. I learned that as a cow-calf producer, I am going to need these alliances in the future to maintain a successful operation and to compete in the world market place.”
The YCC trip offers a complete tour of the beef business. On the first leg of the trip, participants received intensive leadership training and heard from NCBA staff, as well as representatives from Safeway, CattleFax, U.S. Meat Export Federation, and JBS while in Denver, CO. The group traveled to Chicago to visit the Chicago Board of Trade, Chicago Mercantile Exchange and OSI Industries, which works closely with McDonald’s. The final destination of the trip brought the group to Washington, D.C. to lobby on behalf of cattlemen back home.
“There are many issues coming down the line that could have a major impact on our industry,” said Blair. “For instance, the EPA is on a regulatory rampage that could place a huge burden on producers. The EPA is currently working on dust regulation that would make every day activities such as soil-tilling, cattle movements in feedyards, and simply driving down a gravel road under the control of the federal government and could make it illegal for producers to complete daily tasks. The Obama administration has also issued a guidance document that dramatically expands the regulatory authority of the EPA and The Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act. This would give them jurisdiction over all types of waters including any stream, ditch, or pond on your land and you could easily be subject to regulation. It’s time that the beef industry puts our differences aside and starts working together to stop some of these ridiculous regulations that could put an end to our way of life.”
Other issues the group worked on included the pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
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“The U.S. faces a 40 percent tariff on beef in South Korea and an 80 percent tariff in Columbia,” explained Blair. “Phasing out the tariff in South Korea alone could result in the sale of over $1 billion dollars in U.S. beef. This would put a huge sum of money in the pockets of U.S. producers. We have to remember that 96 percent of cattlemen’s potential customers live outside the U.S. and that exports have added a minimum of $145 per head to our bottom line. This number would grow dramatically if we could secure the FTAs to these countries.”
Blair also visited with the staffers of all three of the Congressmen from South Dakota and was able to meet personally with Senator John Thune.
“I was able to tell my state representatives about the impact the upcoming regulations and laws could have on me as a beef producer,” explained Blair. “We visited about EPA, GIPSA, FTA and eliminating ethanol subsidies, so that beef could compete for their share of corn. I also met with USDA Under Secretary Edward Avalos to discuss issues coming down the pike. He is very supportive of the beef industry and wants to do everything he can to secure a future for beef producers.”
In his role as YPC President in South Dakota, Blair is seen as a respected leader among his peers. After the trip, he is excited and passionate about the future of the beef industry for young people.
“There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for young people in agriculture right now and in the future, but it is going to take some outside-of-the-box thinking and aligning yourself with the right people in the industry to compete for your share of the marketplace,” Blair summed up. “This trip made me realize that there are good times to come in the beef industry, but you will have to be able to educate yourself and adapt to the changes.”