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Beef Industry Past, Present, and Future

NCBA president Craig Uden has a family history of industry activism and hopes to unite producers around common goals.

SF: How did you get into the cattle business?

Uden: I’m a fourth-generation Nebraska cattleman, but I didn’t go back to the home farm after college in 1982. Rather, I had a chance to manage and become a part owner of Darr Feedlot near Johnson Lake, Nebraska. With 18% interest rates and many things working against us, it wasn’t exactly a good time to get into farming. We took a 1,500-head feedlot at that time and turned it into a 46,000-head feedlot at two locations now.

My wife, Terri, and I are also part owners of three cowherds, some of them with our grown children.

SF: What led you into NCBA involvement?

Uden: That goes all the way back to my childhood. My dad, Wayne, helped start the local county cattlemen’s group 50 years ago. I watched him do that work, and it made an impression. He went to the national meetings, and I stayed home and did the chores!

Recently, I saw some news articles from 50 years ago, when Dad started that group. The big cattle issues were trade, heavy-handed government regulations, and creating better markets – some of the very issues we are dealing with today. I couldn’t believe it. 

It says to me that we need to always be vigilant in looking out for our own interests, moving the industry forward, and improving things for the next generation.

SF: What’s different today compared with 50 years ago?

Uden: For one, we’re more global now. Just think about my state, Nebraska. We don’t have that many people here, but we produce a lot of beef. We have to think globally and export it to be a prosperous industry.

I’m optimistic that President Trump will be good for trade. Our organization, NCBA, will work with his administration on bilateral trade deals, if that’s the way to go. We know that our trade partners want our product, and if we don’t fill the demand, someone else will. 

The trade deals have to be fair. For example, when Australia sends beef to Japan, there is a 27% tariff, and that percentage is declining. In contrast, when U.S. beef goes to Japan, there’s a 38% tariff, and we have no plan for reducing it. That alone costs the U.S. beef industry $400,000 every day, as estimated by our economists.

SF: What else is on your wish list for the beef industry?

Uden: Better education. I’d like all producers – whether they are cow-calf, feedlot, or whatever segment – to be better informed. I want us to share information up and down the supply chain. Information is power.

I also want stronger partnerships between NCBA and our state beef organizations.

I want to find better ways to encourage young beef producers. They’ll soon be our industry leaders, addressing new consumers. 

I remember being at a meeting in the 1980s where an industry leader got up and said we need to listen to consumers and change our end product. She said we weren’t just cattle feeders anymore; we were beef producers. That stuck with me. From there, we’ve been on a journey to find better ways to handle, feed, and raise livestock. I want that to continue. 

That’s why I like the NCBA. It’s where we can meet other producers and see what they are doing. Sometimes, we can take ideas home and adapt them to our own situation. 

It’s where we can face the industry-wide issues that challenge us, address them head on, and find solutions that will help us be more successful.

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