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All Roads Lead Back to West Texas

Fenton and her three kids
Fenton’s 9-year-old daughter, Ella Jane, enjoys gymnastics and robotics; her 8-year-old son, Hays, enjoys being a cowboy, baseball and cub scouts; and Lane, Fenton’s two-year old daughter, enjoys making noise and running around the house.

A recent high school graduate from a rural West Texas town stepped onto the Texas Tech University campus in fall of 2000 – the turn of a new century. She knew three things: she loved agriculture, she enjoyed politics, and she had absolutely no idea what she wanted to be when she “grew up.” Yet, there she stood, meeting with her academic adviser, “all grown up.” 

The Beginning

Carmen Fenton, of Amarillo, grew up around agriculture in White Deer, Texas. Fenton was an area FFA officer and was highly involved in extracurricular actives. After graduating high school, she was uncertain about studying agricultural communications at Texas Tech University.  

“To be honest, I wasn’t really that jazzed about going into agriculture,” Fenton said. “I felt like it was all I had ever done.”

While Fenton was uncertain about studying agricultural communications, Cindy Akers, Fenton’s adviser, eased her uncertainty. 

“When I got to Tech and started digging into ag com,” Fenton said, “I realized this is something I could make a career out of.”

During Fenton’s senior year, ambition turned into opportunity. While she enjoyed agricultural communications, she still had a passion for policy and was eager to pursue her interest. Akers recommended she apply for the congressional internship through Texas Tech.

“I have always loved politics,” said Fenton. “The congressional internship program at Tech really just married the best of both worlds for me.” 

Four Congressmen 

After completing her internship under Congressman Randy Neugebauer and graduating from Texas Tech in December 2004, Fenton continued her time in Washington, D.C., where he was hired on to work in Congressman John Carter’s office as his staff assistant and later his scheduler.

After three years in Carter’s office, Fenton moved to the Oklahoma delegation to work for Congressman Tom Cole as his press secretary. At the time, Cole was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

Fenton’s time with Cole was short lived when Carter offered Fenton a job as his communications director. 

It was an offer Fenton could not turn down, so she went back to work for Carter, and stayed there three years. In 2008, she decided to take a small step back from policy and move to Austin, Texas, where she worked for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association doing public affairs until 2013. 

By this time, Fenton was married, had two children and her husband was in law school. Together, she and her husband, Jason, decided it was time to move closer to home. 

 “After moving back to Amarillo, I went to work for Mac Thornberry,” Fenton said. “That was the fourth U.S. congressman I worked for.”

After two years in Thornberry’s office, the director of communications position at Texas Cattle Feeders Association opened.

“The job was a good fit, and I have been there ever since,” Fenton said. “It’s been quite a ride.”

Back to West Texas

Ross Wilson, TCFA CEO, said he knew Fenton from her time working for Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association as head of their communications in Austin. Wilson admired Fenton’s great work ethic and the energy she brought to the table. 

“I can truly say there is no other profession I would want to dedicate my life’s work to.” 

Carmen Fenton

“We did our best to keep up with Carmen after she moved back to Amarillo,” Wilson said. “When Carmen was ready to get back into a full-time career, we had an opening, and we were exited to hire her on.”

TCFA represents the cattle feeding industry in three states: Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. As the largest cattle feeding region in the country, TCFA producers market more than 6 million cattle each year.

With Fenton’s creativity and eager spirit, she hit the ground running. 

“Since the day I started, until today,” Fenton said. “the nature of the organization has changed drastically.”

Due to the advancement in technology, today’s consumers want to know the exact origin of their food. Naturally, feedyards face some challenges other agriculture organizations may not encounter.

“Typically, when consumers are asking questions about how animals are treated, factory farms, animal antibiotics, etcetera, a lot of those questions are directed at feedyards,” Fenton said. “It’s not always easy to paint that positive picture for consumers.”

It is Fenton’s goal to be transparent with consumers and to talk about how beef is produced modernly and efficiently in feedyards. She said people want to know how their food is raised and it is her job to tell them. 

“I want people to know that what we produce is safe and healthy,” Fenton said. “It’s good for you, it good for me, it’s good for my family, and you should feel good about eating it.”

Fenton and the TCFA team have modified communication efforts at TCFA by developing a more user-friendly website, creating a prominent presence on social media, starting a TCFA blog, and updating all communication platforms to better meet the standards of modern technology. 

Along with the help of TCFA’s communications coordinator, Madeleine Bezner, Fenton is also responsible for developing an annual magazine, designing brochures and other printed media, writing press releases, taking photos, traveling, and helping organize annual events. 

“Carmen contributes many things to TCFA – hard work, loyalty, creativity,” Bezner said, “but most importantly, she contributes a passion for storytelling.” 

One of the greatest challenges of Fenton’s position is developing a working relationship with producers, feedlot workers and TCFA members to develop a consistent, transparent message throughout all communication platforms. 

“Inherently, people in agriculture aren’t very comfortable talking about themselves – they just want to do their job,” Fenton said with a chuckle. “Well, like it or not, it is now part of their job.”

One of Fenton’s favorite parts of her job is drawing back on her previous job experience to bring a level of expertise to the office pertaining to legislation and policy. She said she feels like her position has allowed her to marry all of her interests – beef production, communications and policy. 

“There is nothing else that I would rather do – really,” Carmen said. “I can truly say there is no other profession I would want to dedicate my life’s work to.” 

Out of the Office

When Fenton is out of the office, she can be found at baseball practice, Cub Scout events, gymnastic meets, robotic team meetings and chasing her two-year-old with her husband. While Fenton has a lot going on in her life, she always strives to balance her time between work and family. 

“Ever since I met her, Carmen has really always been ‘Super Mom,’” Wilson said. “I’m happy she came back to West Texas, and I think she is, too.” 

Expanding for the Industry: CASNR Develops New Department

As the agricultural industry grows, so does the need for industry leaders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for large animal veterinarians is increasing. This is primarily due to the fact that there are fewer practitioners trained to treat large population animals. This shortage is impacting rural areas in Texas which are dependent on the health of their livestock. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University is hoping to meet this industry need with its development of the Department of Veterinary Science that will focus on population-preventative medicine.

“Most of the livestock [operations] in this area are fairly large and there are lots of animals,” Interim Department Chair of the Department of Veterinary Sciences, Michael Ballou Ph.D., said. “We will take more of a population-based approach to answering questions and solving problems.”

After a year of planning, CASNR named Ballou the interim department chair in 2017. A California native, Ballou found his way to Texas Tech in 2007 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2002 and a doctorate in nutritional biology with an emphasis in immunology in 2007, both from the University of California-Davis. His nationally-recognized studies helped earn him the title of CASNR associate dean for research in 2014. His background in research has helped him in the development of the new department.

Aiding the Industry

The newly formed department is a graduate program only. The program will offer master’s and doctorate degrees, both of which are research-based degrees. The department will offer a traditional on-campus program and distance programs. The primary focus of the department will be to train individuals in the population and preventive veterinary medicine. The program plans to attract people interested in pursuing a research career with a primary focus in farm animal medicine.

Ballou said the veterinary sciences department will provide a greater focus on research and outreach efforts in food, animal, equine and wildlife health and well-being, and is intended to meet the educational and research needs of the animal-agricultural industry and the regional veterinary community.

We will take more of a population-based approach to answering questions and solving problems.

“Our focus is mainly going to be looking at the population data and understanding how we can improve the health of feedlot cattle and dairy cattle,” Ballou said. “Our research programs will depend on collecting data from local operations, and they have the data we need.”

Ballou said this program will stand out from the rest as it will focus more on population and preventative medicine in the livestock industry. This is different than clinical medicine, which would suggest diagnosing one sick animal. Population preventive medicine looks at overall livestock production and focuses on the incidence of disease, how many animals are getting sick, and what factors could contribute to that.

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The department is going to have a focus on population and preventative medicine in the large livestock industry.

Setting the Standards

Ballou said he and his team want to focus on integrating all aspects of the college’s current departments into the curriculum. He said there will be portions built into the curriculum that will include natural resource management, agricultural communications, agricultural education, agricultural economics, animal and food science, and even public policy. The graduate program will focus on all aspects of the veterinary science industry, not just medicine.

“We are trying to look at ourselves as more of a centralized department, but also relying on and working with other departments in the college,” Ballou said.

Ballou said the online-based program will be particularly appealing to those already who have a doctorate of veterinary medicine and are practicing veterinarians. This program will allow them to continue to work in the industry and also gain new skills that they would not have learned in vet school.

“When you go to vet school, they teach you how to be a veterinarian,” Ballou said. “They teach you how to deal with one animal that comes in that is sick. They don’t teach you how to deal with large population data. So, being an online program, a veterinarian can be in practice and still articulate through this program in two years. It’s going to teach them different skill sets to understand large populations.”

Ballou said those with international veterinary degrees will also be attracted to the online program as they would be able to continue their research while abroad. This program will additionally target people who may have a Ph.D. and are working in the industry, such as animal or livestock health nutrition management, who want to understand how to look at health data as well.

What’s Next

The department is currently in the process of getting the required approval to open its doors to students in the next years. Ballou said he and his team have been working endlessly to get curriculum developed and proper accreditation from the university.

Although the department itself has been approved, Ballou said it will still take a year or two to get everything finalized and placed where it needs to be. As of now, the curriculum for the graduate program can be found on a piece of scratch paper displayed in Ballou’s office in which he and his team have made notes and developed what they think will be the most beneficial to the future students. CASNR does not know when the department will see its first round of graduate students in this department, but Ballou and his team are working to make this program the best it can be to set it apart from other veterinary programs. This department will help shape our industry leaders in new ways.

Not Just Medicine

 It is important to note that the veterinary science department will not be associated with the College of Veterinary Medicine that is currently in the works at Texas Tech through the university systems. Although the future vet school will be a link to the main campus and present resources to CASNR, the two are unrelated. Ballou said the two will essentially be focused on different aspects of the industry.  

Cattle are just like us – They Need Their Vitamins Too!

How the global vitamin shortage is affecting the agriculture feed industry.

Growing up do you remember your mother forcing you to swallow or chew a couple chalky vitamins before heading off to school? Remember wondering, why do I have to take these nasty things?! Even though most of us as children wished that those vitamins would just disappear. Be careful what you wish for…

As children we don’t realize how important vitamins are for keeping our bodies healthy. Our skin, eyes, hair, metabolism, teeth and virtually every other part of our body benefits from the intake of vitamins. Animals benefit greatly from vitamins too, and animals used for food, even more so. Due to the current global shortage of vitamins A and E, the animal agriculture industry is about to face some tough challenges.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for health, reproduction and growth in animals. It also plays a vital role in low-light vision; normal kidney functions; development of teeth, bones and nervous tissue. Vitamin E is essential for the optimum function and integrity of animals’ muscular, reproductive, circulatory, nervous and immune systems.

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Young Hereford calves wait for the feed truck to deliver their morning rations that are enhanced with necessary vitamins. Photo by: Maclaine Shults

After the closure of a large plant in China and a fire that destroyed much of the European BASF chemical plant in Germany, which contributes over 45 percent of the global supply of citral, industry leaders fear an inevitable spike in feed prices.

With the current cattle market resting below a measly $2/lbs of beef harvested, cattle feeders are barely getting by while trying to meet the historic, all-time high demand for beef. Now throw in the added lack of vitamins A and E, which play a crucial role in animal nutrition, and the financial walls just seem like they’re about to close in!

However, industry officials came up with a couple ways for producers to plan ahead and hopefully soften the blow until plants are up and running and the vitamin volume in feed is back to normal.

Get in touch with a feed supplier

Though the event of the shortage in itself was unforeseen, many feed companies were still able to retain and provide enough unaffected feed reserves to producers.  Those who weren’t have done their best to maintain normal prices on feed, so as not to put livestock owners in a tough spot financially.

Producers were encouraged to maintain normal feed orders with their feed suppliers and stock up on as much vitamin efficient feed as possible before the shipment of deficient feed hit the market (The Agriculture Industries Confederation (AIC) sent word out in December 2017. The vitamin-short feed hit U.S. markets in the beginning of 2018.)

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Young cattle need as much vitamin A & E in their diet as possible. Vitamin A is readily available when grazing in the summer, but in the winter they must get it from feed rations. Photo by: Maclaine Shults

Speak to a veterinarian or nutritionist

The AIC  put the word out to different farming associations and organizations, producers should consult with their vet or a credible animal nutritionist to find a way to restructure their feeding plans.

Right now, the animals  most at risk for vitamin deficiency issues include young livestock and lactating females. So, producers are being encouraged to prioritize these animals (if they are present on their operations) and administer feed that was stored prior to the shortage to these animals daily.  The remaining livestocks’ feed will have to be adjusted in order to compensate for the lack of specific vitamins. Thankfully, there are resources available to accomplish the task. Another positive point, those animals are not as at risk for negative effects from the shortage as those mentioned previously, so they should be just fine!

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Not everyone likes to take their vitamins, but these calves and their mamas sure need them! Even if this guy thinks otherwise. Photo by: Maclaine Shults

Challenges within the agriculture industry are not uncommon.  Agriculturists and industry leaders strive to meet and conquer these challenges head-on so as to be able to continue feeding the world. Consumers also play a vital role in industry success and that hasn’t changed with this most recent issue.

Not to get on the whole “naked and hungry” train, but we are all consumers and as such, we need to make it a point to research and become aware of the issues facing the agriculture industry. In this case, the vitamin shortage and its effect on livestock health is something we can follow and keep up with because we can help others understand the challenge.

We wouldn’t want to be without vitamins essential to our diet. I’m sure we would do our best to figure out the quickest alternatives to find a solution to that issue, right? Well, the same goes for animals.  It’s our duty to make sure people realize how vital it will be to continue to support the animal and food agriculture industry through this challenge!

Conservation of Land & Heritage

Dan and Tom Griffin stand strong on their family ranch in front of angus cattle.

 

On the Griffin Ranch, family traditions are a blueprint for decisions about college, livelihoods and ranch management, but are difficult to amend. Tom, Dan, and Ben Griffin graduated from Texas Tech University like their father and are the fifth generation to manage a portion of the family ranch in Borden County, Texas.

Tom and Dan perpetuate stewardship attitudes they learned from previous generations, but have fostered a stronger relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve their conservation practices.

Dropping off the cap

The Griffin Ranch is about 30,000 acres in total and lies right off the caprock, a stunning 250-mile-long geographic border marking the end of the Southern Plains. They also have another portion of the ranch around Channing, Texas.

“You drop off the cap, and it has a lot more character as far as up and down, breaks and creeks,” Tom said. “Every pasture is a little different.”

Tom, Dan and Ben take care of separate portions of the cow-calf ranch. However, the Griffins act as a team during times like branding and weaning and will help each other take care of the ranch regardless of whose “portion” they are working. They treat the ranch as one cohesive family business and “plan to keep it that way,” according to Dan.

The family has been managing the land since 1926 when Thomas Louis Griffin first established the ranch.

Taking back the land

Based on stories from his grandpa, Tom said the landscape was completely different back then. It would’ve looked more like the Rolling Plains with a few short mesquite trees, if any.

“It has changed quite a bit I’d say,” Tom said and chuckled, “but I think it’s always been dry.”

Thomas Lane Griffin, the brothers’ dad, began battling mesquite on the ranch, a struggle that has continued into the next generation. The trees, a problematic invasive species, suppress grasslands and dominate water resources. They are hard to eradicate, but spread easily.

“Whether you get governmental assistance or not, you have to fight it,” Tom said, “or else it takes over. It crawls through and spreads like wildfire.”

Dan and Tom said they administer brush control through aerial spraying, grubbing with a tractor or excavator, and have recently experimented with prescribed burns collaborating with the NRCS.

Firm foundations

“Since I can remember, Dad pretty much took care of the ranch himself with a couple of hands from time to time,” Tom said. “He’s done more on this ranch than we’ve done together.”

Tom explained Griffin Sr. is not resistant to new ideas and management practices, but he is a careful and cautious, especially not wanting to detriment the ranch’s grazing capability.

“He’s seen a lot more drought in his lifetime than Dan and I have,” Tom said. “He has more experience and is still the final say on a lot of things.”

The brothers consider drought a family hardship along with the passing of their grandfather.

“Paw Paw died in 2010,” Dan said, “and then it didn’t rain.”

“Paw Paw died in 2010, and then it didn’t rain.”

Since 1996, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service reports droughts have taken more than $38.5 billion from the Texas agriculture economy with farm and ranch losses totaling $21.62 billion.

Tom said 2014 and 2015 were positive years for the ranch. Since the “worst” drought Tom has ever experienced in 2011 and 2012, the ranch’s populations of quail, deer, and bobcats have skyrocketed, largely due to the conservation work the Griffins do with the NRCS.

NRCS conservation partnership

With their increasing roles as ranch managers, Tom and Dan have brought new ideas to the table by working closely with the local NRCS’s field office to improve the ranch using conservation enhancements through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The Griffin brothers are able to enroll in NRCS programs as Young Farmer and Ranchers. This incentive gives young families like the Griffins, who are beginning to establish or expand their agricultural operations, a slightly higher cost-share rate on conservation practices and improvement projects.

Dan said the NRCS has helped cost-share projects on the ranch including building fences to help prevent overgrazing, spreading out water sources for cattle, and building a water storage system to save water for drought years.

“Because these improvements are cost prohibitive, we would’ve had to get loans,” Tom said. “The financial assistance from the NRCS makes it easier to do these conservation enhancements.”

The NRCS provides technical and financial assistance but also supports ranchers as an educational resource with a team of district conservationists, water quality and grazing land specialists, and agricultural engineers.

Dan has worked with Matthew Coffman, the NRCS Southern Rolling Plains grazing lands coordinator, to formulate a prescribed burn plan for the Griffin ranch.

“Matt made the entire fire plan, and it didn’t cost us anything,” Dan said. “The prescribed burns have helped with productivity of the grasses and brush control and has made our pastures healthier.”

Dan said working with Coffman and other NRCS staff has sparked his interest to learn more about grasses and how to keep the land productive.

Coffman said he began working with Dan in 2014. He said he is inspired by the large-scale impact on the health of the land from work his NRCS predecessors did nearly 20 years ago.

Coffman said goals for the ranch include building the burn program to the point where the Griffins have applying prescribed burns “down to a science” with a regular rotation of acres and are able to take more control of the process.

“They are just great guys,” Coffman said. “I enjoy working with them, and I can tell they want to benefit their land. They’re working really hard.”

Strong family bonds

Responsible stewardship is one of the many Griffin family traditions that the brothers said is “in their blood.”

Tom said his wife and kids enjoy Texas Tech football games and are able to sit in the same seats that Tom and his brothers did growing up. Tom and Ben were able to get the season tickets their grandparents used to have.

Gloria Griffin, the brothers’ grandmother, still lives at the homeplace and celebrated her 87th birthday in October. Tom said she has plenty of great-grandkids who visit her daily. The brothers indicated their strong ties to their family motivated them to return to the ranch after graduating.

Overall, Tom describes the Griffins as blessed to be able to continue living on the ranch and passing down family traditions and values down to the next generation.

“We grew up riding horses, working cows, hunting, fishing, and going to church,” Dan said. “Visiting grandma next door seem to be about as good a lifestyle to raise kids in as we can think of.”

 

 

Feeding Cattle and a Hungry World

Twice as much beef is being produced today with half as much cattle. Genetics and technology advancement have allowed cattleman to produce more beef while using less-resources.

Sirens, horns and shouting surround the 50,000 people who rush through the streets of Times Square in a day, much in contrast to the hum of the feed mill and the whistling of the wind through Wrangler Feedyard in Tulia, Texas. The warm and arid climate that originally brought cattlemen to the Texas Panhandle, stood true at 90 degrees in early October 2016. Cowboys on horseback check the over 40,000 head of cattle while another runs the mill with an iPad.

The world’s population has surpassed the 7 billion mark and is well on its way to reaching 9.5 billion people by 2050. Last year, 9 million people died from hunger, compared to the 1.21 million deaths caused by road accidents, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Paul Defoor, Ph.D., a graduate of Texas Tech and chief operating officer of Cactus Feeders, runs Wrangler Feedyard and nine other yards in Texas and Kansas. Defoor said progress is the only way to improve people’s lives and solve a looming hunger crisis. The agriculture industry has seen tough times before.

“We pulled ourselves up out of the ashes of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and we built the most efficient, safest and productive food production system that the world has ever known,” Defoor said.

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Cactus Feeders is the world’s largest privately owned cattle feeding operation.

Defoor speaks passionately about how technology advancements, such as the plow and kerosene tractor, led to the Dust Bowl. Although that was an extremely difficult time for American agriculture, without the Dust Bowl, soil conservation and other innovations would not have been discovered to create the progressive agricultural systems we have come to know today.

Agriculture has progressed dramatically over the past half century. Twice as much beef is being produced today from the same size herd in 1955, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Defoor said advancements in pharmaceutical, crop and genetic technology, as well as the advent of large feed yards and development of transportation systems, have created the increase in production.

However, demand for high quality protein, such as beef, continues to rise with 3 billion people expected to move into the middle class in the next 30 years, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Centre.

The challenge to meet the demands may not solely lie in the hands of agriculturists such as Defoor. Defoor believes activists, cloaked as the consumer, can sink a society if they are able to convince others that core processes, such as food production, have progressed far enough.

“It’s a classic and not unexpected case of just having things too good,” Defoor said. “A bit of a spoiled brat mindset is really what it amounts to.”

Ross Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Texas Cattle Feeders Association and graduate of Texas Tech, believes agriculturists must take action to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

“We must be very transparent and increase our efforts to communicate to the public about how we produce food,” Wilson said.

Wilson suggests taking action is two-pronged. It consists of communicating why we use certain practices with current innovation. Yet, the beef industry must be open-minded and aggressively pursue new and different technologies that may not look anything like the tools that science has created thus far.

Wilson said antimicrobials, a controversial topic in food production, are an example of why beef producers and agriculture in general might not need to blindly defend what has always been done.

“Some of the production benefits that we’ve enjoyed are a result of better animal care, and antimicrobials are certainly a big part of that,” Wilson said. “At some point in the future, will we need to use antimicrobials, or the same levels of antimicrobials? As science evolves, can we be more targeted?”

Science in the past has contributed to the reduction of global hunger by increasing carcass weight in beef cattle and creating higher yielding crops.

“Science is on our side, but unfortunately, science won’t always win the war,” Wilson said. “We have to be our biggest skeptics.”

Science is on our side, but unfortunately, science won’t always win the war. Ross Wilson

The need to communicate the importance of agriculture in order to meet the demands of the future also greatly hinges on agricultural policy and its influence on trade.

Wilson said the world’s population is increasing its purchasing power. If history is a good barometer then China and other developing countries will want more quality protein such as meat.

Government policies play a sizable role in ensuring that protein has the ability to be exported to booming markets such as China. An extenuating circumstance is how policy relative to food production in the United States could hamper the ability to trade.

“We face several significant challenges though when it comes to the impact of consumer attitudes toward production technology, their impact on policy makers and our ability to produce and export beef,” Wilson said. “All of these are intertwined, not just in animal agriculture but in crop agriculture too.”

Kent Bacus, a Texas Tech graduate and director of international trade and market access at National Cattleman’s Beef Association, stays on top of events all over the world and the potential indirect impact they could have on the beef industry.

Bacus said there are many factors that impact ranchers, feedlots and associations such as NCBA.

“Weather, cattle markets and government interference in the market are our main concerns,” Bacus said. “My focus is finding ways to limit negative government interference in beef trade, whether that is with the U.S. government or the government of an export market.”

Bacus said modern agricultural systems must be utilized by the United States and other countries to meet the demands of the future. The U.S. negotiates for equivalency in safety standards and works to ensure exports are not discriminated against. Often times, other countries won’t embrace the sound science behind the production of food in the U.S.

“Some restrictions are politically-motivated instead of science-based, and they are an unfortunate cost of doing business in those countries,” Bacus said.

Technology restrictions on use of growth promotants, such as beta-agonist, are some of the hurdles the beef industry faces when negotiating trade deals with other countries.

The current political environment threatens to limit the U.S beef industry’s ability to provide other countries access to its nutritious products. Bacus said if the U.S. takes a protectionist approach then it is guaranteed that our export markets will follow in our footsteps. A reduction in foreign market access is likely, which will have a direct hit to our small to mid-sized producers and feedlots.

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Amarillo, a U.S. transportation hub, is essential to the movement and trade of beef.

“The anti-trade rhetoric during this election season and the move toward isolationism is something that may resonate with the electorate, but it could devastate the U.S. beef industry,” Bacus said.

Bacus, Wilson and Defoor are optimistic the people who make up the beef industry will continue to feed the world.

“Few people can say that the people they work for will take care of their animals before they open their gifts on Christmas morning,” Bacus said. “Today, we use less food, less water, and less land to produce more high-quality beef than we produced 40 years ago.”

Wilson said cattleman are some of the most aggressive entrepreneurs you would ever find and are direct in their dealings.

“At the end of the day it’s about improving the standard of living for our people and society,” Defoor said. “That’s really what it is all about.”

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Grazing a Gold Mine

 

Born and raised in Burkburnett, Texas, Keith Easter said he is a rancher/farmer or vice versa. While attending Texas Tech University, he worked for a friend who farmed and ran stocker cattle.

“I had always wanted to run cattle on my own wheat,” Easter said. “That’s all I have ever really wanted to do.”

Once ready, Easter was given the chance of a lifetime.

“I was very blessed to get the opportunity to buy the ranch I grew up on,” Easter said. “My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.”

The ranch came with quite a bit of farming, Easter said. However, he was excited to be in control of his own operation and his source of feed and wheat.

My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.
Keith Easter

Hard Work and A Lot of Faith

Wheat is a cash crop in the region. From mid-fall until late spring, Easter said, wheat provides a good source of protein for stocker calves.

Easter said the great thing about wheat is that it enables ranchers to have an opportunity to have cattle on high protein forage, and do well, through the winter months when warm season grasses are dormant.

“Wheat is a dry land crop, but it is also a cool weather crop,” Easter said. “It is well-suited for our area. If we can get the wheat planted and established early along with some timely rain, it’s hard to beat.”

For farmers and ranchers to depend on wheat for a forage supply, wheat must be planted early. Early planting allows the plants to get a good start before cold weather and short days set in.

“TAM 401” and “Razor” are the beardless wheat being used by farmers in the region. This type of wheat matures earlier, and it has proven to be a good fall and spring grazer.

Easter said once cattle ship in the spring, he starts running the chisel on his ground, to break it up.

Easter uses two four-wheel drive tractors, a chisel plow with a disc, and an air seeder.

“Once you get it broken up enough,” he said, “you are then able to fertilize and sweep the ground through the summer to keep summer annuals from growing up and robbing your moisture.”

The objective is to get the ground in better shape to have a good seed bed in the fall.

Any time after the first of September when there is an adequate amount of rain, he will begin to plant his wheat. If no rain is in the forecast by the first of October, Easter will dry sow his wheat.

“It is all dictated by weather,” Easter said.

While there are many variables, time and rain are key for a successful wheat crop.

Firm, wet ground is desirable for sowing wheat. “You want your moisture, but you don’t want to get it so shallow it’ll dry out,” Easter said.

Wheat: A Rancher’s Gold Mine

Owner and operator of the Wichita Livestock Sales Company, Billy Joe Easter, said he uses wheat as a source for economical weight gain through late fall, winter, and early spring.

Keith and Billy Joe are cousins who both grew up with agriculture. Their dads are brothers who were raised on a farm.

“Our dads’ good reputations have helped both of us in starting and growing our businesses,” Billy Joe said.

Through the years, they have stayed in close contact because of their interest in the stocker wheat grazing.

“Wheat pasture is a very suitable cool-season grazer that one should take advantage of for fall weaning calves,” Billy Joe said.

Along with his cattle auction, Billy Joe runs his own cattle/wheat operation.

“I use wheat to grow stocker calves into yearlings ready to go to the feed yard,” Billy Joe said. “Along with that, wheat allows me to grow breeding bulls for resale.”

If the market allows, Billy Joe said, he will put first calf heifers on wheat to give the young females a better opportunity to breed back and raise their first calf with ease.

Since Billy Joe does not harvest, he plants a wheat and oat mix to improve grazing.

“I want a variety of wheat that puts out lots of leaf,” Billy Joe said, “and is late maturing so it will last longer.”

Depending on moisture, Billy Joe said his cattle will graze on wheat from December until May.

Right now, the expense to harvest wheat for grain is far too high for farmers to take that kind of loss.

By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef.
Billy Easter

Billy Joe said thousands of wheat acres are strictly used to grow grain outside of Texas.

Local wheat prices may see a slight impact (slightly higher prices due to less wheat being harvested), but globally it does not affect the price of wheat.

“By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef,” he said.

Billy Joe is thankful to be able to grow his cattle on wheat pasture, which allows stocker calves to spend less time in the feed yard.

“Wheat is giving us an opportunity to make money,” Billy Joe said.

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