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NCBA President Talks the Big Picture

Tracy Brunner has a hand in all things beef.

Name a segment of the beef business – cow-calf, seedstock, stocker, feedlot, processor – and Tracy Brunner is there. That might make the Kansas rancher uniquely qualified for his leadership role this year: president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

His family farm in the western Flint Hills of Kansas is appropriately called Cow Camp Incorporated. Successful Farming magazine corralled him for a one-on-one interview recently.

SF: Talk about your farm.

Brunner: We are in the central part of the country, at the natural crossroads from southeastern cow-calf country and the grain and feeding areas of the High Plains. We have access to a mix of native grass pastures and some tillable farm ground. It’s about 4,000 total acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, and alfalfa in rotation. We have a seedstock enterprise (Cow Camp Ranch), which produces genetics that are utilized across the country. 

   For many years, we asked ourselves, what is our place, our specialty, our niche in the always-changing beef industry? Eventually, we concluded that we will never have the money to be the biggest feedlot or enough land to be the largest ranchers. Our climate grows forage, but not high-yield corn.

   We do know good cattle and quality beef, though. That commitment to quality has probably been the single-most important decision we ever made. We believe our farming, grazing, seedstock, finishing, and value-based marketing systems (through U.S. Premium Beef) complement the other enterprises.

SF: What are your top three priority issues as NCBA president?

Brunner: First would be trade. We need access to the growing global protein market. We have the product the world likes; we need market access. Now it’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and that’s huge. After that, we’re going to take on Europe. Trade is for tomorrow – the next generation.

   Second would be market volatility and price discovery. Beef production takes place on hundreds of thousands of ranches and feedyards and in processing and distribution facilities around the world. We must have a level of transparency in pricing. Futures markets are a big part of price discovery in the beef value chain. Too much volatility there hinders the industry from normal commerce. We are likely evolving to something better; we just aren’t sure what yet.

   For number three, I would list property rights and land use. This includes water issues, regulation, appropriations, and restrictions. The world’s economy, security, and future depend on healthy and productive agriculture. Some would use government to enforce their limited views.

SF: How will you get more cattle producers involved in industry issues? 

Brunner: I encourage all cattle producers to help in their own way. We all agree on a majority of issues and only differ in approach on a few. Why don’t we work together where we do agree? Surely we are stronger together. There are many ways to help the beef industry. Membership in an organization such as NCBA is a good place to start.

SF: Consumers are more active in food issues. Is that a problem or an opportunity? 

Brunner: I see it as opportunity. It makes a great place for our next generation of beef producers to be involved and to take the lead. Our millennial farmers and ranchers can and do connect with others outside of agriculture. Organizations like ours can help equip them with information. Mostly, I think consumers just have questions. We must have a generation prepared to answer them.

SF: What do you do for fun? 

Brunner: My life is my family and all they do. When our kids were home, it was school, sports, junior livestock shows, and rodeos. Now, it’s still the same, with grandkids nearly coming of age. I spend most of my time in our cattle business, and I enjoy it too much to think of it as work.

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