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Communicating the virtuous cycle of beef production

Communicating the virtuous cycle of beef production

Clay Mathis

Clay Mathis, Ph.D., director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, presents keynote address at American Gelbvieh Association National Convention in Oklahoma City Dec. 8, 2021.

The virtuous cycle of beef production was the focus of the American Gelbvieh Association National Convention keynote speaker, Clay Mathis, Ph.D., director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management.

Mathis opened the annual convention with a presentation that offered attendees a new perspective on the incorporation of consumer demand on long-term ranch management strategy, and the hard trends producers can use to build a resilient operation.

“You can think of these hard trends as ideas or things that we know exist,” Mathis said. “We may not know the magnitude, but we know that the trend exists.”

Mathis noted a host of “knowns” in the beef industry today, citing the increasing complexity of doing business and heightened regulations. At the top of his list, however, was sustainability and the ability of consumer perception to influence other “knowns” within the production system.

“The three pillars of sustainability are social, environmental and economic. We’ll start with the economic pillar, because that is where we are most comfortable discussing sustainability. If we are more profitable, we have an incentive to produce beef, and if we have a motivation to produce more beef, then we are more likely to improve the management of cattle and natural resources,” he said, noting that cattle and natural resource management don’t have to be neglected to make a positive change in management.

Mathis posed the question: If we improve cattle management and natural resources management, aren’t we then also improving the efficiency of production? And if we improve the efficiency of production, we increase beef production and, in-turn, revenue, because if we are increasing the efficiency of beef production, we are decreasing the unit cost of production.

“If everything else is constant, we should increase profitability. This is that continuous improvement that you may have heard about,” he said. “It’s a virtuous cycle. We do things better, we make more money, we help the environment and we increase consumer demand.”

Mathis urged attendees to consider the carbon footprint of this beef production model.

“Think about the greenhouse gas emissions. Think about the social acceptability of beef production increasing, and the biggest driver of social acceptability, animal welfare,” he said. “When we improve management, we improve all of those things, and they all, especially social acceptability, afford us a license to operate. It means we have the trust of the consumers.”

This message desperately needs to be communicated through producers, industry outreach and organizations like the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Mathis said. It is everyone’s mission to communicate sustainability across the beef value chain. Communicating the sustainability benefits of beef production is a win-win for every component of the value chain, including the consumer.

“Social perception of what we do has to be front and center,” Mathis said. “The annual checkoff budget is about $80 million; Beyond Meat has an annual marketing budget of $200 million. If we are going to change perceptions about our industry, we all have to have a voice, because we can’t out-spend the people who want to put us out of business.”

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