With a sharper focus on sustainability, it’s important for cattle producers to showcase the improvements they have made over the years and their commitment to continually improve, the head of the nation's largest cattlemen's organization says.
Sustainability and stewardship of natural resources are a big part of the success of the cattle industry, said Colin Woodall, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
But it is also “a big part of the success that we will have talking about our industry as being a solution to climate change and not a contributor to climate change,” he said during NCBA’s latest “Beltway Beef” podcast.
Sustainability is not a fad, it’s here to stay, he said.
“The consumer continues to ask more about where their food comes from,” he said.
Therefore, retailers, foodservice and restaurants are asking, and that goes to the packers and processors, he said.
“It just goes up the chain and, ultimately, it all falls on us … it comes back to us as producers,” he said.
President Biden has also made it clear that climate change is a top priority, and sustainability is not going away from a political perspective, he said.
“And we have a choice — we can either be at the table or we can be on the menu,” he said.
Cattle producers have often viewed sustainability as some outside entity trying to come in with additional rules, regulation or burdensome red tape, he said.
“We need to change that mindset because I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe that sustainability is providing us an opportunity to showcase the great work that we do as stewards of our natural resources — clean air, good soil, healthy forages, clean water,” he said.
But sustainability is more than the environment, there’s also the economic side. If an operation isn’t economically viable, it’s not sustainable, he said.
Then there’s social sustainability, everything cattle producers bring to their local communities. Bank presidents, school board and PTA members, scout leaders and churches all include cattle producers. Their success provides sustainability and success to these communities, he said.
“So we have to look at sustainability across the board, more than just the environment but everything that we do as an industry to sustain rural America and to feed this country and feed the globe,” he said.
Cattle producers are focused on taking care of the business at hand every day, not talking about their operation. But they have to come forward and share their story, he said.
“We can take this approach of showcasing the great work that we have done to take care of the soil, the land, the great work that our animals do in upcycling grass and turning it into high-quality protein,” he said.
That’s a great story. It showcases all the improvements cattle producers have made over the years, he said.
The industry is producing more pounds of beef with fewer resources than ever before and remain committed to continued improvement, but cattle producers need to talk about it, he said.
“If we don’t talk, there’s a void. And the void is going to be filled by any number of people, and most of those people do not have our best interests at heart,” he said.
“We’ve got to be willing to step up and deliver the message,” he said.