By Jimmy Hughes
It is not often I take the opportunity through the means of this article to offer my opinions concerning an industry so dear to each of us. As a boy growing up on a cattle farm, I looked forward each day to seeing what new adventure would come along. Whether it was checking cows, looking for calves or even bailing hay, the benefits of working outside on a farm far outweighed any disadvantages I could think of. The work ethic learned and the appreciation of nature was far greater than being able to work indoors on a fixed time schedule. But, I often find myself unappreciative of the opportunities my dad and uncle offered me to be raised around agriculture all of my life.
With that said, I think we are at a crossroads concerning the future of agriculture in Alabama, especially the beef cattle industry. With record feed, fuel and fertilizer cost, along with lower average cattle prices, it seems there is little reason to be involved in the cattle industry in the future. These facts, along with rising land prices and urban development, have led to a large number of producers selling their cattle or, at the very least, considering selling their cattle. This should concern all who are involved in agriculture along with any household in the United States that depends on agriculture for their food and fiber.
As family farms go away and population continues to increase, we will become more and more dependent on uncertain foreign import markets to supply us with a plentiful, safe, disease-free food source to meet the needs of our families. I do not know about you, but I am concerned about the aspects of depending on foreign countries to meet our food needs. We need to look no further than fuel prices to see why we need to be able to meet our own beef needs in the United States. While we continue to see this trend develop, there are things we can do to promote agriculture and our products as well.
First, as an industry, we must support each other and band together to promote our cause. I recently attended the Alabama Cattleman Association’s Convention held in Birmingham. The Alabama Cattleman’s Association (ACA) did a great job in promoting this event and offered cattle producers an excellent opportunity to learn about their industry through attending seminars, visiting with vendors who promote products for our industry at the trade show and listening to guest speakers who are directly involved in the betterment of our industry through the legislative process. While we have thousands of members in the ACA, only a small percent of this group will attend any of this three-day meeting. While I know it is impossible for some producers to work it into their schedule, it would be great to see a larger number attend. This is our opportunity as an industry to be heard, to let others know our needs and concerns and to learn how to make our operations more efficient and profitable. If we speak as one voice, we will be a group of activists who will be heard and will change the direction of agriculture in this state.
I also ask all cattle producers to promote our industry to the next generation of cattle producers. I can understand with the uncertainty of farming it is hard to promote agriculture as a viable occupation. We must promote our industry even in hard times. There is not a more satisfying occupation than one in agriculture. Hard work, long hours and hardships are a guarantee, but so does the self-pride, appreciation and satisfaction of being involved in the oldest industry known to man outweigh the negatives.
As a cattle producer, I encourage you to get involved with the younger generation in our country. Promote our industry, hire these young people to work on our farms, mentor them and offer them an opportunity to visit your farm. As a young boy, nothing meant more to me than driving a tractor, looking at cows or going to a local livestock auction and I am sure there is a large number of both boys and girls who would jump at that same opportunity today. Please, give them the opportunity.
Third, I would ask you not to stand behind the shadows of those groups who would try to hurt our industry through demonstrations or the legislative process. Animal welfare groups and population groups who want urban development at the expense of farming are growing in number and are very vocal when it comes to their cause. Let our voice be heard as loudly to those groups and those who support and can help our industry through better laws.
Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.