I had the pleasure the end of March to attend the 122nd annual meeting of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the grandfather of all the state beef organizations. Approximately 1,800 of the association's nearly 14,000 members joined me in attendance.
The emphasis at this meeting was something I'd never heard much about at previous meetings of this group, and that was a strong consideration of the end-user of our product, the good old American consumer. Heretofore, most TSCRA meetings focused on production problems, legislation and the like, in traditional cowman fashion.
This is progress, and an indication that old-line cattlemen are moving smartly toward the new millennium by recognizing the end user is the person our product has to please if we are to survive as an industry.
The convention's keynote speaker was Jay Poole, the director of agricultural relations for the Phillip Morris family of companies, which includes Kraft Foods, who emphasized this, pointing out that all of us in agriculture are, after all, in the same business and share issues that transcend our individual specialties. And all of us serve the demands of the consumer. We need to work together to find shared solutions to our mutual problems.
To truly serve our customers' needs, we must figure out what the consumer wants, and how he or she defines value, safety, quality and convenience. And we must deliver all that and more to consumers around the world. This is the challenge that faces the entire agricultural industry.
He went on to point out that the idea of understanding the consumer is much deeper that simply building demand for our products. “We need to understand where our customers are coming from not only in terms of their preferences for our product, but also in their level of understanding and acceptance of how our product is produced,” Poole said.
Another convention speaker was Mollie Kaye Meade, who is in charge of value-added meat products for HEB Supermarkets, one of the nation's fastest growing supermarket chains. Ms. Meade pointed out that her company was placing new emphasis on the development of this market for beef and beef products. She pointed out that pork and chicken have stolen a march on the beef business by producing a wide range of pre-prepared products that working housewives can come home and prepare in minutes in the microwave.
Beef is a late comer to this area of marketing, and as a result have lost a significant share of the market. She pointed out that the processors of pork and poultry readily moved into the production of these products as extensions of their marketing efforts. Beef processors have not made this move and are unlikely to do so in the near future.
Thinking back, I believe I read somewhere that Tyson Foods, the chicken processor, had something like 64 employees working in the area of new value-added product development. Iowa Beef Processors who kills 40 percent of the fed cattle in the country, has one employee involved in this.
Ms. Meade also said that most supermarket chains were unlikely to get into this either. They are more interested in buying products to sell in their stores than in preparing those products which is an entirely different business. On the other hand, her company has stepped into this in a big way in the past year with something like 15 new products that range from pot roast to fajitas that can be heated and served in minutes.
She said she is currently looking at 23 more beef products that may well be introduced by the company in the next 12 months.
She praised the efforts of the National Cattlemen's' Beef Association for the hard work they are doing in this area, and predicted that this type of product would become an ever-increasing percentage of the beef sold in this country.
In my opinion, she is right on the money, and I think we will see an entire new group of companies being formed to develop these products and to fill this market.
I think the emphasis placed by the TSCRA on these areas is one of the most positive signs I've seen lately that the beef cattle industry is finally coming of age and is ready to do some constructive thinking about solving its real problems.
In another area, the signs weren't so good. The convention heard a report from the meteorological people at the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission that indicates most of the southern U.S. is likely to see drought conditions over the remainder of 1999 and into the new century. These predictions were due to the discovery of a new “La Nina” in the Pacific between South America and Asia, a cooling of the water over a large area of the ocean. This is the flip side of the more traditionally known “El Nino” that we have seen over the two years just passed.
This cold water changes the flow of the jet stream which will supposedly have an adverse effect on the moisture in the South.
Well, he may be right. It would be hard for me to imagine much dryer conditions than most of Texas enjoyed over the past year, when “El Nino” was supposed to be bringing all the rains. I hope he's wrong, but he probably isn't. All this industry needs is to suffer a severe drought across the southern part of the country, on top of everything else.
The meteorologist did see some light at the end of the tunnel, however. He said that his commission was having some very favorable results from cloud -seeding which in the area in which it was used had upped rainfall totals as much as 30 percent in the seeded areas compared with un-seeded areas in the same region.
All in all, I'd have to classify this year's 122nd TSCRA convention as an excellent meeting on some subjects that are vital to the future of the industry. And as always it was enjoyable for its socializing and fellowship with other like-minded cattlemen.