6 main takeaways from last month’s IBC listening sessions and needs assessments
When I was brought onboard at the Iowa Beef Center, it was essential to me to begin getting out across the state and getting to know Iowa producers and stakeholders in order for my efforts and programming to accurately reflect the needs specific to the state.
Every few years, the IBC holds listening sessions and needs assessments to do exactly that, and during the first few weeks of January, Dr. Dan Loy and I traveled around the state conducting these sessions with producers to discuss issues, challenges, and opportunities in the Iowa Beef Industry. The extension beef specialists hosted these sessions and brought together thought leaders in each of their regions, where we began to identify key areas in need of research and education from the Iowa Beef Center. After six sessions and 1,000 miles on the road, several recurring themes stood out:
Land use and availability. Pasture ground losses and increased pasture rent and land costs were a dominant concern across most of the state, driving the interest for more grazing opportunities and management strategies. More knowledge of cover crops was repeatedly mentioned, including which varieties to use, nutritional value of different species, when to plant, when to graze, and how to manage. Other topics discussed included developing alternative cropping systems, CRP availability, and converting poor crop ground to pasture.
Feed resources. Land availability and the increased costs of feedstuffs such as hay and distillers led to discussion of the need for alternative feedstuffs, reducing feed costs, and feed storage.
Health. Some aspect of cattle health was discussed at each session, although the topic of interest varied. Diseases such as hairy heel wart, foot rot, respiratory disease, pulmonary issues, and pinkeye were discussed. Vaccination cost and better understanding of protocols were mentioned, as well as concerns regarding antibiotic usage driving the interest in non-antibiotic alternatives.
Cow-calf confinement. Housing cow-calf pairs in confinement was discussed at 5 out of 6 of the sessions, with emphasis on questions regarding labor requirements, health concerns, management, facility design, and economics.
Transition to the next generation. The transition of the farm to the next generation was a significant concern throughout the sessions. Not having young people to hand the operation to and having a hard time attracting/keeping young employees was a recurring concern. Young producers voiced their concerns that it is difficult/impossible for them to get into the industry, and need more tools for effective transfer of ownership, rental/share agreements, and succeeding with slim margins.
Management/marketing tools and strategies. The desire for better management and marketing tools to improve success in slim margins was another dominant theme throughout the sessions. Many producers expressed the need for tools for benchmarking, keeping performance records, and understanding actual costs per cow. The need for alternative management and marketing strategies was stressed, including understanding the economic impact of such strategies, strategies to add value, and managing risk.
While this list is not comprehensive of every topic discussed at the listening sessions, these are the major themes that led many of our discussions. Each of these sessions resulted in 5-10 pages of handwritten notes detailing our dialogue, so even if your concerns are not listed in the above themes, it was absolutely heard and will be considered as we move forward with research and extension programs.
Finally, I would like to give a huge thank you to all who participated in these listening sessions. It was a fantastic opportunity to get to meet some of the cattle producers and stakeholders in Iowa, have some wonderful and thought-provoking conversations, learn a thing or two, and get feedback on where we need to focus our energy at the IBC. Your input is crucial in the development of relevant programs and research, and I thank all who participated for your time spent meeting with us!
–Iowa State University Extension
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