It’s Not a John Wayne World Anymore

A Great Week for Gathering Cattle…Men and Women

From Bozeman to Miles City, Montana clear east to Washington D.C., farmers and ranchers took a break from the operation to gather with colleagues in their respective organizations, a move that is critical to move the industry forward MSGA keynote speaker Don Schiefelbein said.


by Kayla Sargent

The secret to eight brothers, their wives, 32 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren running a successful operation together?  Embracing an ever-changing industry.

“The key is that my boys aren’t raising cattle like we used to,” Frank Schiefelbein, founder of the successful Minnesota seedstock operation known as Schiefelbein Farms, once said.  Frank’s son, Don, Schiefelbein Farms President, said this a quote he has adhered to, and one the livestock industry needs to take note of as well.

“Times are changing,” Schiefelbein told the attendees at the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) Mid Year Meeting in Miles City.  “I like to speak right from where the rubber meets the road.  In Montana, you kind of live in this fantasy world that today’s world is a John Wayne world.”

John Wayne, according to Schiefelbein, said what he meant and meant what he said.  “And if you didn’t believe him what would he do?  He’d shoot you and bury you in a shallow grave.”

But today, producers may not have the luxury of doing things the way “they’ve always done them.”

“As proud as we are of our heritage, are we who the real world is from a big perspective standpoint?,” he asked the crowd to reflect.

To prove that point, Don asked his 17-year-old daughter to help him find a photo of John Wayne for a powerpoint slide.  When she responded that she had never heard of him, Don asked her who might depict today’s society.  Her response — Justin Beiber.

“This is the world everyone else is living in,” he said.  “Does it matter if we don’t like the world as the world wants to be?  We can voice our opposition but the reality is we aren’t in the majority.”

In fact, ranchers only make up a mere two percent of today’s population and most are now three generations removed from growing up on a farm or ranch.  So many Americans have little idea about where their food comes from or how it was raised.

“We need to change the manner in which we tell our story to make sure the two percent stay viable,” Schiefelbein said.

On the bright side though, he said even though agriculture producers only make up two percent of the population, “people like us, they like the good ol’ cowboys, they want to believe us.  But where we get in trouble is they don’t know how our world operates.  So we have to reacquaint them with our world.”

That’s why he said producers need to be involved in today’s changing market.  It’s important to share beef’s story and reach out to legislators whom want to understand the industry better.

Another quote he said the industry needs to adhere to — “Nothing matters if no one wants your product.”

“So if you want to be John Wayne and say, ‘by gosh, I’m raising them this way’, how economically smart is that?  The consumer votes with their pocketbook on how we raise cattle,” he said.  “We need to start with the consumer and work backwards.”

For example in the 1980’s, ranchers were still set on raising beef “their way.”  Demand fell steadily from then into the early 1990’s.  At that point, according to Schiefelbein, “we started to listen.”

Suddenly, beef demand was witnessing a “new story.”  Producers began to ask what the consumer wanted, the beef checkoff program emerged, and demand started to rise for the first time in a decade.  This was thanks to two important concepts that Schiefelbein said stand as true today as ever: listen to the consumer and think outside the box.

In order to successfully share the beef production story, and have a say in the changes the industry is sure to continue facing, Schiefelbein said it is critical to be involved.  As the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Policy Chair, he shared an update on some of the organization’s priorities.

In today’s market discussions, trade is at the forefront and NCBA supports President Trump’s “hard bargaining.”  Considering trade accounts for $350 per head of fed animals, it’s an issue that needs attention to ensure fair and open trading deals — especially with Asia, “the fastest emerging market for U.S. beef,” he said.

“We need to set the rules right now when we have the chance,” Schiefelbein said.

The beef industry has a minute share of the Asian beef market, so for this sector in particular, “we have almost nothing to lose there now, so bargain hard,” he said.

Schiefelbein said the cattle industry should take advantage of the “friendly administration” that’s in place right now in writing traceability guidelines as well.  If there was to be a disease outbreak under an administration that may not work well with cattle producers, it would leave the industry at the mercy of their traceability rules.

“That’s what we are risking by not taking control ourselves,” he said.  “It’s time to engage.”

NCBA is also keeping close tabs on the rise of fake meat competition.  When Burger King announced the rollout of the Impossible Whopper, a plant-based version of the original Whopper, Schiefelbein said his team was at the McDonald’s headquarters visiting with the R&D department.  According to their team, many of the fast food rollouts of plant-based proteins aren’t because of market share anticipation, but rather keeping the restaurant as a viable option for the variety of consumers in today’s market.

After reading a long, complex list of ingredients from the Impossible Burger label, Schiefelbein asked, “For a consuming public who’s interested in clean labels, how sexy is that?  We have to have a national organization who brings that to light.  The ingredient list for our product would say beef.  Period.”

The beef checkoff is a venue for some of that research and education, a program that NCBA fully supports.  Shiefelbein expressed his frustration with the ongoing battle ensuing over checkoff funds and how they should be allotted.

“In an era where we are less than two percent of the population, how smart is it for cattlemen to fight against cattlemen?,” Schiefelbein asked.

Airing disagreements between cattle industry organizations publicly and through lawsuits is bad practice, he said.  For example, with so many parties involved on his family operation, Schiefelbein said they solve issues among one another by coming to the table for discussions to ensure they move forward in unity.

“The idea to destroy one for the sake of the other is mind boggling to me,” he said.

Seeing this small population fight among one another only encourages those activist organizations, Schiefelbein said, joking that the HSUS should sponsor meetings between the groups.

“If there are things that need to be changed, come into the system and be involved,” he said.  “As goes the industry, so goes your business.  We can get some things done if we unite and get together.”


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