Facebook founder ‘checks in’ to the ag industry
Followers of Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg may have been playing “Where’s Waldo?” over the last few weeks, or rather “Where’s Mark?”
In an effort to connect the world, Zuckerberg has traveled to various places through the country exploring trades far different from his own in what he calls the Year of Travel Challenge.
One of Zuckerberg’s earlier stops was Bailey Yard, in North Platte, Nebraska, which is one of the largest train yards in the world at more than eight miles long.
He posted a photo of a bald eagle from Alaska on Independence Day preceding a post tying together fishing on a glassy lake and Alaska’s established social safety net programs.
Williston, North Dakota, oil rigs produced a much-debated, respectable Facebook post, in which Zuckerberg advocates “stopping climate change is one of the most important challenges of our generation. Given that, I think it’s even more important to learn about our energy industry, even if it’s controversial.”
Later in his post, after stating that climate change, largely from fossil fuels, is a challenge facing our generation, he said, “They believe competition from new sources of energy is good, but from their perspective, until renewables can provide most of our energy at scale, they are providing an important service we all rely on, and they wish they’d stop being demonized for it.”
The same could easily be said for the beef industry which Zuckerberg briefly peered into July 12. He visited the Norman ranch in Piedmont, South Dakota, and hungrily absorbed information from fourth generation ranchers Joe and Diane Norman and Tom and Georgia Norman, and fifth generation Matthew Norman, Tom and Georgia’s son. Joe and Diane have two married daughters, Christine Schrader and Angela Jackley.
The Normans and Zuckerberg spent much of their 2.5 hours together at the dining room table, where Zuckerberg gleaned knowledge from all of the family members and their hired hand, Jake Hammond. Later, he was taken to a pasture, where he was quite certain the cattle would hurt him and was assured by Joe that they would not.
“His goal is to travel to 30 states and catch the essence of certain areas that are off the beaten path,” Diane said. “He doesn’t need to do these things, but he’s very attentive when he speaks with you. You can see his brain taking this all in. There was a genuine interest; he wasn’t just showboating.”
Zuckerberg posted that he thought “we should be thankful and understand where our food comes from … A lot of our cattle starts in South Dakota where there are about three times as many cows as people.”
The Normans were chosen for a visit through the attorney general’s office. Diane said one of the attorney generals came to their ranch to hunt some years ago.
Both Diane and Joe stressed that while there has been negativity surrounding the Facebook post, they have appreciated the chance to educate the public.
“We hope to educate the younger generation what the ag industry is about,” Joe said. “We want people to know that almost 100 percent of cattle is used, whether for boots, or lipstick, or insulin, or meat.”
There are negative comments on all of Zuckerberg’s posts, whether about fracking or, most recently, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana.
“No matter where he was, there were negative comments. I don’t think that’s unusual,” Joe said. “There’s always a section of the population that doesn’t like anything, but there has sure been tons of positive.”
Norman Ranch has larger concerns than negative Facebook comments. Like much of the country, they have been faced with drought and the decision of whether to trim down their cattle numbers, which they discussed with Zuckerberg, and he mentioned in his post.
“This is a high-risk business; you have to be prepared for good and the bad. A lot of people don’t realize that,” Diane said.
Zuckerberg also talked about technology within agriculture, and while there is more technology constantly being implemented, Joe said he had no plans to check his cattle via drone, as mentioned by Facebook’s founder.
While Joe and Diane thought that Zuckerberg painted their situation in a very realistic light, there were a few points that Joe thought may have been too in-depth for the Californian to understand fully without knowing the industry completely.
“My brother is a commodity broker in Rapid City and we were talking about the concentration in meat packaging and regulations where [truckers] can only drive 12 hours, then the truck has to sit,” Joe said. “Some of it was too in depth for just glancing over it.”
The Normans were glad to host Zuckerberg in an opportunity to share their operation in the name of education.
“This is going to heighten our industry awareness to other states even,” Diane said. “It was a great honor and experience. The whole prescreening crew were easy to work with. It was our honor to have him.”
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