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A Bit of Beef from the Bluegrass

14 Mar

By Jesse R. Bussard

I recently had the opportunity to interview Greg Robey, current President of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association.  Greg resides in Harrodsburg, Kentucky and has been involved in the cattle industry for over 30+ years.  He provided me with some great insight into his experiences as a cattleman and also provided some advice for up and coming young producers.

Describe your involvement in the cattle industry.

I have been involved with purebred production, commercial cow/calf, and feeder cattle operations.  In tough economic times I have diversified our cattle operation by custom feeding and grazing stocker cattle and breeding dairy heifers for large dairies in the North.  I have also been involved in agribusiness working in the feed industry and livestock identification business.

Why did you become a member of you State Cattlemen’s Association and NCBA?  Why do you think it is important for other cattle producers to become a members?  What involvement do you have with these organizations?

My current position as Kentucky Cattlemen’s president has come about from working with this organization for over 20+ years.  I have always believed we need to get involved in our industry. We know that data shows that only 1-2% of the US population is involved in agriculture.  This tells us that 98% or some part of that 98% may not understand food production in the US.  We need to stick together and tell our side of the story and continue to educate the consumer on what we do and how important are jobs are to society.

Why do you think the beef industry is important for your state?

Kentucky is basically a forage state.  There are several acres of rolling pasture land that would not be suitable for crop land but makes excellent grazing land for cow/calf and feeder cattle operations.  We are not in the Corn Belt and do not have the livestock harvesting facilities for the finished cattle market.  We do however have the ability to grow the type of forages it takes to have a successful cattle farm.

What do you hope your State Cattlemen’s Association and NCBA will accomplish in the next year?  Next 5 years?

Short term I think we should all stay together and work out our differences in-house or behind closed doors. We must find issues we can agree on and focus on those issues and the others just agree to disagree and move on.  We need to always show a unified front in what we do.  There is too much at stake to allow these differences to divide us. We have enough competition from outside our industry.  We sure do not need to help them by airing our in-house disagreements on a few issues.

Long term we should focus on exports and continuing to improve our consumer confidence and work on new market strategies. By this I mean new user-friendly beef items for today’s consumer.

If you could have coffee with your elected representative in Washington and talk about anything you wanted, what would you say?

I would be interested in discussing ethanol subsidies. These policies concern me on how it’s supporting or propping up an inferior market for ethanol. This has falsely raised our competition for corn and quite possibly could be standing in the way of other renewable resources that would actually stand alone as a viable energy source.

In your opinion, what is the best way to connect cattle producers to consumers – both in rural and urban areas?

The local and National Beef Councils help provide us as producers a connection to our consumers or I should say customers. The national programs are doing a great job of creating new products that are user-friendly and are trying to keep up with today’s modern family. Because these are our customers, we need to listen to what our they are saying and learn new ways to continue to earn their trust and their business. There are several things they look at from portion size, cooking techniques, and preparation times. The local beef council can focus on putting a local face or personality with our product. From print ads, radio and TV all these things can help support the consumer confidence in our product. We know the Internet and Smartphones have been excellent ways to spread the word through blog sites and social networking accounts on Twitter and Facebook.  These tools are at our disposal. We need to make sure we tell our own story and not let it be told by others who have a hidden agenda to put us out of business.

Do you consider yourself an “agriculture activist?”  If so, what type of activities do you partake in?

Not really.  I don’t think of myself as an activist, no more than any one else that has a passion for what they truly believe in.  Seems like the word activist today is negative or against something.  I don’t see my involvement as any different as if I saw a good movie and told a friend about it or bought a new truck and had a really good experience and passed that information along to a friend.

What is one of the most important things you’ve learned about the beef cattle production while you’ve been involved in the industry?

Getting involved has been a big help to me personally.  By getting involved it has helped me to better understand my business.  This understanding has helped with marketing strategies, networking and business trends to stay in touch and current with what’s going on in my industry.  We all should be learning something new every day and this is another way of continuing education.

What do you think are the top three issues that affect young cattle producers?

Start-up cost, bank loans, overhead and cash flow.  All of these keep many young farmers out of the game before they get started.

Any advice for young producers?

I would suggest they find a mentor or older farmer to work with.  Some of these men and women want to continue in the business but due to labor or physical restriction may be forced out if unless they have someone to work with. This type of business arrangements can be good for both parties. This can allow the young farmer to gain knowledge and capital while the senior farmer continues in the business without being forced out due to labor issues.

Anything else you’d like to say…

Stay the course, stand true to your word and remember to be proud of the job you do.

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