Another National Cattle Convention is just about over. I’m
riding the train back to Iowa as I write this. Riding out to Denver, I was
enjoying the ride, talking to strangers, anxious to get there and start
Tonight, it’s a different me, exhausted, grumpy to the
point of hoping my train neighbors don’t even look my way, and nearly out of
words (yes, can you believe). It’s not the late nights of the convention that
get me, it’s the early mornings. Everyday for 4 days, I was up with the
chickens (imagine that, at a cowfest!) for something; a breakfast meeting at
6:15, a couple of stories to finish up, a Cattle College seminar.
Now it’s done, and I’ll try to summarize my highlights and
Every year at the Cattle Convention, at the grand opening
session, they bring in a “name” motivational or inspirational speaker. I try to
attend because, well, I’m inspiration-challenged.
I’ll bet the name Richard Picciotto doesn’t ring any bells
with you. Didn’t with me, either, but you probably know his story. He was a
fire chief in New York City on September 11, 2001, just coming on duty at 8:45
that morning when THE call came in. I could give you the rest of the story, but
then you wouldn’t have to buy his book (Last Man Down), and there isn’t really
Picciotto was the inspirational speaker yesterday, and
yes, I was inspired. He isn’t what you would call a “classic” great speaker,
but my goodness, does he have a story to tell about being in the north tower
that morning, ushering/shoving/carrying thousands of people out of the death
trap, then somehow surviving with a few other people when it pancaked down on top
of him. How? A miracle, and he knows it.
It’s easy to say that at any particular time an industry
is “at a critical point” in determining its future. We hear it, sometimes it’s
absolutely true, sometimes it’s just a good way to get someone’s attention.
I think it’s absolutely true of the beef industry, right
now. It’s critical because we’ve been in a numbers free-fall for several years,
especially since the advent of the ethanol era. We used to have over 40 million
beef cows in the U.S., now we have 33 million, maybe still declining. At one
time, cattle ate up more of the corn crop than any other user segment. Now,
ethanol takes up just about half of the crop, and cattle eat less than 15% of
One of my favorite parts of the Cattle Convention is Cattlemen's
College, which is underway today, Wednesday, Feb 2. It's an all-day seminar,
mostly on cattle production topics, with six concurrent sessions. I try, but
your reporter can't be in six places at once, so I choose sessions that hit me
as most relevant to mud-on-their-shoes commercial beef producers.
I stood by the registration desk on Tuesday at the Cattle
Industry Convention in Denver and watched a trickle of farmers and ranchers
register for this big show. Normally, 6,000 or more cattlemen and cattlewomen
attend, but probably not this year. Weather has wrecked many travel plans, and
people who made it are just happy to be off the roads. Unfortunately, Denver,
too, is in a weather nightmare with record cold. The high on Tuesday was 3
I asked all of these ranchers 4 questions: Why do you come
here? What product category are you most interested in at the trade show? What
was your best money-making idea in the last year? Is it time to expand your
I’m at the annual Cattle Industry Convention this week in
Denver, and cattlemen were showing up at the registration desk on Tuesday in a
trickle. Getting to Denver has been a fiasco as the worst storm of the winter
rages across the Midwest and beyond. I stood by that registration desk and
talked to a few of them, which I’ll share here shortly.
I actually started hearing those stories through the night
on Monday on the Amtrak train, the California Zephyr, that I caught in Osceola,
Iowa, and rode out here to Denver.
If there’s a heaven just for cowboys, it’s in Denver, Colorado – this week, anyway. That’s where they’ll all be gathering for the Cattle Industry Convention, February 2-5, 2011 (www.beefusa.org). Agriculture.com will be there to report here on the production seminars, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association policy meetings, and Trade Show gossip.
Here are some of the policy issues that will be bantered.