San Diego Protesters during the 2016 Cattle Industry Convention. Note they set up on the far end of the Convention Center, the opposite end where all of the meetings and trade show took place.
San Diego Protesters during the 2016 Cattle Industry Convention. Note they set up on the far end of the Convention Center, the opposite end where all of the meetings and trade show took place. Image via protesters’ Facebook event.

Last week, over 6,700 ranching industry members and their families flooded downtown San Diego for the 2016 Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show. This annual meeting is a great opportunity to catch up with ranchers from across the country, forge important business relationships and work on policy that guides the national association’s work on important work impacting rural communities and our ability to continue in the business we love.

This year’s meeting was a great showcase of educational workshops, featured speakers and entertainment for one of the few vacations many ranching families may make this year. Among the featured speakers at the Cattlemen’s College was Monsanto CTO, Dr. Robert Fraley, and Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill highlighted one of the General Sessions. During the week, a large number of policy meetings also took place where ranchers had the opportunity to receive updates and voice their perspectives on a number of important topics impacting our industry today.

Much of my time was spent working a trade show booth, but I was able to catch up with several folks and attend a few of the meetings. Of course, a meeting such as this does not come to town without its detractors and critics. California didn’t disappoint, with a few demonstrators advocating for their beliefs in vegan lifestyles and the perspective that cattle ranchers ruin the environment. I am kind of disappointed I didn’t have an opportunity to catch an activist selfie.

I’ll give credit to the activists who showed up proclaiming that “Beef = Death.” At least they made an effort to be there, unlike a few ranchers who decided a negative rally on the NCBA Facebook page was an acceptable approach.

Kelli Loos NCBA Critic

I get it. Not everyone will agree on every issue within a membership organization. We vote on policy measures that drive the organization’s role in advocating on policy and social issues that impact our ability to conduct business. Our industry has been through some turbulent issues during the past few years and it is understandable these would result in very emotional responses.

However, whining about your disagreement in a Facebook post doesn’t take the place of showing up to the meeting, voicing your concerns during open-mic policy meetings, and participating in the process to make change. Trent and Kelli Loos are great people. But during the past several months they have taken their platform and at times turned it into a fiasco to raise a rally cry. Ranchers are an independent lot and love to see a fight. Trent takes advantage of that through a syndicated radio show to garner a larger following. I don’t always agree with the Loos’ approach, and this attempt to rally NCBA critics from their home in Nebraska is one of those times.

Show up. Voice your concerns. Be involved in reaching proactive solutions.

What is NCBA doing to support ranchers during difficult times?

From first hand experience, I’ve been very frustrated at the approach some lobbying organizations take to gain attention of media, government agencies and lawmakers. Blasting in with guns blazing will do little in the way of opening doors of meetings with leaders to find proactive solutions to our problems. While our membership organizations may not be front and center in the news blasting away at government agencies, I guarantee there is work behind the scenes to advocate for our way of life. Have you taken time to ask what is being done of the people you’re criticizing? They were in San Diego listening to questions of concerned members. Where were you?

If you have concerns about specific approaches on certain issues, address those concerns directly to the people involved in the situation. I have done so in the past and have been received graciously. The outcome may not have been exactly to my liking, but at least I took approaches to make my concerns known, offered with a plausible alternative.

Does NCBA need to change in order to represent cattlemen?

Like it or not, this is an expansive country with diverse business climates. No two operations are the same and we have a vast number of global outside influences affecting policy and industry changes. We’re not all going to agree on what happens. But we are able to make change by showing up and voicing our concerns. While our messages may not be received to our liking, at least we are able to raise awareness of our concerns. Blasting away on a keyboard from home does not take the place of making a sacrifice to show up and meeting with the people who make a difference.

The organization is made up of a diverse group of members. Many critics proclaim the feeders and packers run the industry organization and its policy work. Those claims are ignorant of the organization’s structure and policymaking process. The voting membership is made of state affiliate representatives, most of whom come from states dominated by cow/calf ranchers. If you’d like to see and make change in the organizations policy, work through your state affiliate organization and it’s membership policy process to bring issues to the table on the national stage. Attend these policy and business meetings in the winter and summer, then become a member to vote on the policy.

Why meet in a destination city and enjoy the trip?

Hell, yes. Ranching families who may not have more than a few trips from home each year enjoy taking the opportunity to visit destination cities in the middle of winter, conduct business and enjoy their time away. There are nightly receptions, fun during the Trade Show, guest speakers and even a concert. There are a ton of meetings taking place all week addressing the needs of policy work and the solutions we can find toward that. Show me a city venue in rural Nebraska than can host 7,000+ members of the industry and their families, then I’m sure that destination can be added to the long list of possible venues for future meetings.

Yes, these meeting locations are expensive. I’ve helped organize meetings on the state and national level and that’s just a fact in the meeting and event industry. These things cost and those services will not be given for free. Ranchers want coffee during the meeting and at many hotels, that comes at a rate of $22 per gallon. Not much NCBA can do about that.

You can choose not to attend these meetings. That’s your option. But don’t sit at home, send out a rally cry whining about the organization’s work just to build your personal audience and choose not to be a part of the solution. Division and hostility are not what the ranching community needs now. Find a more proactive and approachable manner to work with your peers to find solutions. Don’t sit at home and point fingers at everyone else.

san diego ruths chris steakhouse cattle industry conventionI’ve really given these detractors more attention than they deserve by committing an entire article in response to their statements. But this isn’t solely about Trent or Kelli Loos and a Facebook post that cries about an organization’s national meeting. This is one example of what happens in our industry when so many want a dog in a fight that they do not have a global perspective on. So often we want someone else to blame or believe our issue is the most important in the world. We have so many opportunities to be more informed and to be more engaged on these processes. It’s very frustrating we have to spend so much time trying to tear each other down. When will the agriculture industry learn to better work together toward solutions for everyone?

Don’t let this negativity paint your perception of the organization or event. The 2016 Cattle Industry Convention was a great meeting. This annual event is a great opportunity to meet people from across our diverse industry and allows us to gain a broader perspective of the business we’re in. I highly encourage your to take advantage of future events, attend, and be involved – especially if you need to grab the microphone during policy meetings to voice concerns impacting ranchers in your area, because that is the appropriate time to do so in a productive and respectful manner.

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