Bill Donald is not just a rancher from Montana. Nor is he just past-president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Bill has been the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for the past year. During his time as president, he has helped drive forward the Free Trade Agreements, bring together the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and helped to get the Farm Dust Bill approved…among other things.
YPC’s Lauren Chase has had the opportunity of working closely with Bill. Together they have produced a web video series called Bill on Beef and Bill has been a great mentor for her. In the closing days of his presidency, YPC wanted to ask Bill his thoughts on leadership, young producers, and the current state of the beef industry. Here’s what he had to say…
You are a 5th generation rancher – can you briefly explain your family’s history with raising cattle in Montana?
My Grandfather bought the original part of our ranch in 1909. He had recently graduated from Princeton University, but felt the pull of the West. He raised registered and commercial Hereford cattle and built up a dude operation. He nearly went broke during the depression. In the fifties, my father built the ranch back up. It was a time when land could be paid for with hard work and its production value. My sister and I came back to the ranch in the seventies. We dedicated our lives to insuring the ranch is a place all interested family members can find careers. Our sons came back to the ranch in 1999 and 2002, with our youngest niece coming back 2009. Cayuse Livestock is truly a family operation where we are part of a solid community, utilizing good land and animal stewardship practices to insure future generations can find the same rewarding ranching experiences we have.
Over the course of your presidency with NCBA, what are three key things you have learned about the beef industry that might affect the young producers?
I have learned that today’s beef industry is dynamic, full of opportunities and volatile. All of these characteristics have the potential to affect young producers. Dynamic means the industry is not static, it is constantly changing. While some wallow in pity that the way they operated twenty, thirty or fifty years ago isn’t sustainable today, successful operators identify the playing field then look forward to getting some points on the board. In today’s beef industry opportunities abound in every aspect of raising and growing cattle, but these markets are extremely volatile. Unless one is only investing money that can be lost, some sort of risk management is a must.
The outlook is full of opportunities. The cow calf segment is and will continue to be in the industry’s driver’s seat for the next few years. There has never been a time for more opportunity to make the plunge into a cow calf enterprise. With good management and a little good luck, it will pay off handsomely in the next few years.
How do you think the young producers fit into the rest of the beef industry?
Young producers are the very future of the industry. They hold the key to any future success the beef industry will enjoy. These are definitely challenging but rewarding times. The increase in the demand for beef leads directly to the increase for the price of cattle. There are finally enough dollars generated from a cow calf enterprise to support the type of lifestyle the rest of the country has grown accustomed to. We are currently experiencing the best opportunity for young producers to get involved in the beef industry. I urge anyone who has been considering getting into the industry to grab this opportunity.
What advice could you give to YPC about getting involved with NCBA and taking on leadership roles?
There is an inherent value to having a strong relationship between the YPC and the NCBA. NCBA is THE association of the beef industry. Its members read like the Who’s Who of the industry. Within NCBA meetings, young producers can meet individuals from any and every segment of the industry. To have a successful industry we need a successful NCBA. One thing that makes NCBA successful is the people who step up and take on leadership roles within the association. It is important to the success of NCBA to have the input from young producers. As a leader in NCBA, I welcome the voice and input of young producers.
It is important to the future success of the industry, to have young producers involved in their associations, both state and national. It is important for leaders to realize the importance of balance, particularly balancing their family life, work life and volunteer life. It can be done, but it requires a fine mixture of setting priorities and allocating time to maintain a balanced life.
What is one thing that you would like to see come from the Young Producers Council in the future?
The one thing I would like to continue to see from the YPC is what they do best, bring their ideas to the forefront and communicate about the beef industry to their peers. YPC is a vital link between the beef industry and young people from all walks of life.
How important is advocating for the beef industry?
Advocating for the beef industry is very important because our customers need to have faith in our product and the manner in which it is produced. That is a key factor to high demand for beef. We have a great story to tell. We are good stewards of our land and animals and valuable members of our communities. We must be our own advocates to insure the true story of the industry is told. Now is not the time to allow other groups or people to define us, we must do that for ourselves. I urge all young producers to utilize social media, letters to the editor, and visiting with friends to get our story out.
The Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program is a valuable tool to get up to speed on all issues concerning our industry. It is an online program that only takes six hours to complete. It arms us with all the latest information we need to be articulate spokespersons for our industry. I encourage all YPC members to become MBA graduates. The ideas and facts learned there can then be communicated by many means of social media either by starting your own blog or utilize the YPC Cattle Call.