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A chat with the new NCBA chief
The new president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Bob McCan, knows his cattle, the pain of Mother Nature, and what to do for stress release. In an interview with agriculture.com, he touched on all of those things.
SF: Tell us a little about your ranch.
McCan: It's a fifth-generation cow-calf ranch with Braford cattle at Victoria, Texas. That's about two hours south of Houston. The name of the ranch is McFaddin Enterprises, that was my grandfather's name. My father is still involved on the ranch. And my son, Augie, is graduating from college this year, and he has interest in coming back. My wife, Julie, is my partner.
SF: How many cows?
McCan: Right now we have 3,500 cows, selling calves and some Braford breeding stock. But a few years ago, we had 5,000 cows. We got hit by the drought, and a year-and-a-half ago we had to reduce the cow herd to about 65% of normal. We're in the process of expanding again, like a lot of cattlemen this year. We had good rains in the fall and things were looking good, but we've been mostly dry through the winter. So we'll see.
SF: What got you to this point of leadership?
McCan: It sort of runs in the family. My grandfather was very involved in industry activities, so I became involved in our Texas cattle industry groups, and just moved up.
SF: What's good about the cattle industry now?
McCan: The feed structure today is helping the feedlot people. Calf prices are good for people like us. International market demand for beef is very good, and that alone is adding over $300 a head to the value of our cattle. We're optimistic that China is going to open to our beef sometime, and that will be huge to us. We produce the best-quality beef in the world, and the Asian market seems to really like it better than the low-quality beef they can get elsewhere.
SF: What do you expect to do during the coming year as president of NCBA?
McCan: One thing I would like to do is involve more young people from our industry, get them into leadership positions. The reason is that I think they will be able to better communicate with young consumers, the customers that we really want to reach for the future. We have some really good new young people coming into the beef industry, and they can help us get the message to a new generation of beef consumers. I like to turn challenges into opportunities, and this is one example of that. The other thing we want to do is find ways to help cattlemen start building their cow herds. I think everyone has expansion in the back of their mind, and with a little help from Mother Nature, we will. I think we've hit bottom on numbers. This is one of our biggest challenges, and opportunities.
SF: Why did NCBA not support the Farm Bill?
McCan: There are some parts of it that we did support and helped write. The disaster assistance and conservation parts of it would be examples. But the main issue that we could not support is in the marketing regulatory area, MCOOL [Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling]. It's the law of the land from the previous Farm Bill, and its been challenged in the World Trade Organization by Canada and Mexico. If it is upheld, we expect trade retaliation from those two countries, and that will not be good for us in the beef industry. In the end, MCOOL was not dealt with in the new bill. But, we'll have other opportunities to address it, we'll take a deep breath, and go again.
SF: Although it has nothing to do with the Farm Bill, where is NCBA on the EPA's Renewable Fuels Standard?
McCan: We think ethanol is now a mature industry and it needs to compete on a level playing field with corn for feed. Ethanol doesn't need the artificial props of mandates or subsidies.
SF: What's your favorite part of the cattle business?
McCan: I really like selecting breeding stock and trying to develop better cattle on our ranch. I have my own criteria that I have developed, involving ultrasound muscle measurements, performance tests, and DNA analysis. We can predict which cattle are going to perform a certain way. That all gets my motor going.
SF: And what do you do when you just want to relax, for a hobby?
McCan: I'm a polo player, the kind you do on horseback. I played it in college at Texas A&M, and I've really never stopped my whole life. We have leagues that compete, and tournaments all over the country that I have gone to. I'm 56 years old now, but they even have senior leagues that let me keep competing. I still like it.