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"Last year the big thing was ethanol. Then that stalled. Now what we're facing is high feed prices," says Tim DelCurto, Oregon State University associate professor and superintendent of OSU Extension's ag research center in Union for the past 14 years.
High feed prices in part, DelCurto says, are due to the recent ethanol push and from the impact of continued adverse weather conditions on feed production throughout the U.S.
"The industry may still see high prices for their product, but they're also facing high costs," says DelCurto. "We used to operate with real cheap fossil fuels and cheap feeds — now neither one of those is cheap."
At the core of change lies an industry rapidly moving from what was once a commodity-based market to a value-added market, he says.
"It used to be that producers got paid by the pound for what they produced. Now nearly 50 percent of the market is comprised of branded products that come with a promise. It's quality, not pounds," he says.
The rapidly changing industry is what drove organizers to hold the first Cattleman's Workshop in 2003 in order to provide the correct and most current industry information to area cattlemen, as well as to students in the OSU ag program at Eastern Oregon University. It has become a regional event for the Pacific Northwest.
The central theme of this year's workshop, "Efficiently Hitting the Targets," features a list of industry leaders from throughout the United States.
"This is a really good group of speakers — in demand not only at the national, but the international level. We're just thrilled they all agreed to come to our area," DelCurto says.
The diversity of speakers was purposed to bring something for everyone, from cow-calf producers to the feedlot and packers.
Tommy Beall, the former director of market research for Cattle-Fax, will open the workshop with a presentation titled "Beef Industry Overview, Meeting the Challenges of Change." Beall had a big role in developing Cattle Fax into one of the most comprehensive research and database programs in the industry. He was also the marketing manager of Five Rivers Ranch Cattle Feeding, the nation's largest cattle feeding entity with 10 feedlots and a combined capacity of 800,000 head of cattle. Beall has more than 35 years of experience in cattle market analysis, risk management, procurement, marketing and feedlot management.
Speaker Tom Field will talk on the "Challenges and Opportunities for the North American Beef Cattle Industry." The Colorado State University professor and Cattle Fax consultant's topic focuses on the cow-calf big picture, overall trends, and how cow-calf operators need to change.
Al Kober, retail director for Certified Angus Beef, will follow with insights on how beef retail products will be changing in the future with his topic, "The Changing Beef Industry and Meeting Current and Future Consumer Expectations and Demands."
"Producing Cattle That Will Meet Future Feedlot and Packing Industry Targets," is the topic that will be presented by Bill Mies, a former professor at Texas A&M University and currently a feedlot consultant for Elanco Animal Health.
Twig Marston, Kansas State University, is known nationally for his expertise in developing programs for cow/calf producers. He will explore different real world ideas that producers can take home and use in their operations.
Pono Von Holt, owner of the Ponoholo Ranch in Hawaii, will discuss "The Changing Cow/Calf Industry: A Hawaiian Perspective." Von Holt is familiar to the region, having owned a cattle ranch in Wallowa County, and is one of the most progressive cattle ranchers in the U.S.
"I think these guys are going to provide a real good glimpse into the future," says DelCurto, adding that what attendees should take away from the event is a feel for all the changes that lie ahead and what they need to stay competitive.