It was one of the largest Nebraska Cattlemen conventions in years, and a big reason was the association's celebration of its 125 years of representing Nebraska cattle producers. NC enlisted a lineup of thought-provoking speakers during the three-day event and I sat through several of them.
It was a time of reminiscing about past leaders, events and changes in the industry, of debating present-day issues and looking ahead to challenges.
Nebraska's largest ag sector knows how to put on an organized and well attended convention, and a fun one at that.
While it's good to look back, the gaze into the future brought many cattlemen back to reality.
Gary Sides, a beef cattle nutritionist for Zoetis, an animal health company, described the dark cloud hanging over producers, beef consumption and production practices—well-funded animal rights groups and environmentalists and the reach they have in influencing consumers, particularly youth, and politician through their misinformation campaigns.
There has been a lot of good work done by beef organizations and individual producers, locally and nationally, in explaining to consumers the benefits of beef in the diet and the care producers give their animals.
But Sides says those efforts are woefully short. He minced no words in his presentation, one that he's given to thousands of cattlemen over the past 6 years.
He said the beef industry is "under attack from multiple fronts and in real danger of extinction or irrelevance like never before in our history."
What's he learned over those half-dozen years? Giving these talks to "the choir scares me profoundly. Most of our cattlemen and cattlewomen do not know how to defend and/or promote beef and beef production practices, thus they cannot confidently defend our industry against these critics."
That was a chastisement I didn't expect to hear. We've written in Nebraska Farmer about the dedicated men and women in agriculture using social media to tell the good story of nutritious farm products and the way in which they're raised—in efforts like CommonGround, Masters of Beef Advocacy, A-FAN, as well as the hosting of consumer groups, dieticians and foodservice staff to farms, ranches and feedlots. These efforts and many more exist today.
But Sides implied there are too few in the industry willing to take up the torch to counter the seemingly ever-present anti-beef propaganda.
"It is way past time that all of us take responsibility to get educated and then actively involved in defending against these damaging attacks so that we can maintain and grow a viable, prosperous industry to leave to our children and grandchildren."
His is a warning we need to heed.