Salamanders will no longer be part of the beef supply chain

Survival may be increasingly difficult for some.

A Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga).
A Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga), photo by Greg Schechter.

More than 650 species of salamanders are distributed throughout the world, with about 150 species native to the U.S. These secretive amphibians are so to themselves, that most people never encounter them. Some remain hidden underground most of their lives and only emerge when critically necessary for their livelihood.

In my Extension work, I have encountered a reluctant and sometimes reclusive breed of beef producer that shares numerous characteristics with the salamander. They are solitary creatures that wish not to be disturbed. Most often, they are not part of any cattle-related groups or networks. The most common variety will duck, dodge, and completely evade involvement with regional, state, or national cattlemen’s organizations.

The challenge is this – the environment of the beef supply chain is changing. The flow of product and information that flows with it is becoming more coordinated. This is not a reference to vertical integration like some other animal industries. Retail, food service, and consequently processors, are upping their ideals of information exchange, transparency, as well as, product safety and quality. This change in the beef industry has been rather slow in coming, but I believe now will accelerate. As you might imagine, this is not a conducive environment for the salamander-like beef producer. It will likely become a greater struggle for them to compete in the marketplace. They will find it more difficult to keep track of changes that affect markets for their cattle and their livelihood. They will get tripped-up by lapses in communication, because their information sources will be either sluggish, unreliable, or both.

I have recently observed several salamander-like beef producers. Some were coaxed out of hiding when they realized that marketing cattle for full value may require Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification. Several contacted me after being prompted at a livestock auction. Of course, these were not familiar names or voices on the other end of my phone. They asked me about “the requirement”, and what they needed to do to get certified in this “new program”. I had to bite my lip when I conveyed that the BQA program was launched more than 35 years ago and has by no means been a secret.

My point is this  ̶  the industry is rapidly changing. Beef producers will find it increasingly difficult to stay up-to-date with changing trends, best management practices, technologies, requirements, you name it, unless they are in touch. That is, communicating with their beef producing peers, maintaining a veterinarian client patient relationship (VCPR), networking with allied industry, interacting with their Extension service, and engaging with their state and national cattlemen’s associations. If producers become active participants in the beef community, they will automatically shed their salamander-like characteristics of merely lurking. They could become informed, take part, and add tremendous value to the industry.

Just think of the enhanced strength of beef supporting organizations that is conceivable with greater involvement. For example, the recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture reports there are 882,692 cattle operations in the U.S., yet only about 3 in 100 operations are members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. What if 1, or 2, or even 3 in 10 helped carry the water? What if state cattlemen’s organizations could rely on double or triple their current membership? What would happen to industry initiatives, research innovations, lobbying efforts, and product promotion? You get the picture. Everyone in the industry would benefit.

Of course the irony of this article is that the intended audience will likely not read it first-hand. So, I urge you to be a beef industry advocate and pass this article or message on to someone who needs to become involved. Describe to them the benefits that could be enjoyed with more unity. If everyone reading this convinced just one of their neighbors to join in, what an impact that would have.

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