Category Archives: Arkansas

Judging the 2014 National Beef Ambassador Contest

2014 National Beef Ambassador Springdale Arkansas
Contestants at the 2014 National Beef Ambassador Contest in Springdale, Arkansas

I love to travel, even if it does mean riding in a small Delta puddle jumper with a grumpy flight staff. A few weeks ago, I had the really awesome opportunity to travel to Arkansas and be a judge for the 2014 National Beef Ambassador contest. I was never a participant in the program, but have seen the extent of their activities at national trade shows and coverage of their consumer outreach at events across the country.

23 states were represented, including Tennessee and Montana which both had junior (high school) and senior (college) participants. Tennessee’s Rachael Wolters made the senior team! The juniors are able to return to the competition. Seniors only have one year of competition. I wrote up a piece from the Montana perspective on the MSGA blog.

What is a National Beef Ambassador?
National Beef Ambassadors are passionate youth advocates for the beef community. The individuals on the National Beef Ambassador Team are the official youth representatives of the American National CattleWomen, Inc. [ANCW] and the beef industry. Each year a team of five National Beef Ambassadors is selected during a national contest to travel the United States sharing the story of beef from pasture to plate with consumers and students.

What is the purpose of the National Beef Ambassador Program?
The purpose of the program is to provide American consumers and students with positive nutritional, economic, and environmental stewardship information related to beef consumption and the beef industry. Participants learn how to effectively address issues and misconceptions, accurately share industry practices, and promote the versatile uses of beef.

Learn more in the FAQs on the Beef Ambassador page.

I had the opportunity to judge the Issues Response section. Contestants were given a hot topic article and were given 30 minutes to write a response to consumers in the form of a ‘Letter to the Editor’. One article focused on Meatless Mondays, while the other focused on environmental impact of beef cattle production. Some of those kids know their stuff! The BoviDiva (a.k.a. Dr. Jude Capper) even had her research on the topic mentioned several times.

Not only was this a great opportunity to catch up, enjoy a few meals and drinks with awesome friends from across the country (like Dairy Carrie, the REAL Beefman, Brandi “Buzzard”, and Mal the Beef Gal), I awesome got to meet some new folks and watch some amazing youth who will be the future ambassadors of our beef community. Even if these kids never win the competition, they are receiving some great training on what it means to be an advocate and outspoken for a cause you believe in.

There were a few kids who relied heavily on the coined PR phrases and industry lingo, and a few that still have some polishing up to do on being able to convey their message to consumers, but overall, it was a great group of kids. The team was chosen on Saturday night after a long day of competition and hearty steak supper. For those who didn’t make the team, I say press on. You don’t have to have a title or be a part of an official team to make a difference.

The agriculture community needs more folks like these youth in training to step up and be advocates for our way of life.

Powering through the afternoon with coffee and ice cream
Powering through the afternoon with coffee and ice cream
Thank you to the Arkansas Cattlewomen who hosted the event!
Thank you to the Arkansas Cattlewomen who hosted the event!
atlanta airport fried food
I’m a glutton for airport food. Especially these AWESOME fried, stuffed jalapenos at the Atlanta airport
Oh Delta, your small planes and tall people just don't match very well.
Oh Delta, your small planes and tall people just don’t match very well.
The Northwest Arkansas airport (XNA) has some awesome burgers
The Northwest Arkansas airport (XNA) has some awesome burgers
Advocacy on the go is pretty easy with a simple "I Heart Beef" on my carry-on
Advocacy on the go is pretty easy with a simple “I Heart Beef” on my carry-on

It’s not a trip home without…

Last week I had the opportunity to make a quick trip back to Arkansas to see family and friends. It was my first visit since Christmas and it seems like 5 days flew by entirely too fast. With every trip home growing farther apart these days, I always have a brief list of things that must be accomplished:

  • Visiting with immediate family and grandparents that live in town
  • Enjoy some good homemade meals
  • Spend time working with my dad around the farm and auction barn
Always nice to see some views like this of our bayou bottom pastures
Always nice to see some views like this of our bayou bottom pastures

This trip included every one of those aspects. My family, grandparents, and a few cousins came over to the house for a great meal where my dad grilled burgers and we had all the fixings. My parents made sure I had a few more fulfilling meals through the rest of the week as well.

My family's cattle auction is packed most Tuesday afternoons with farmers looking to increase their herd numbers
My family’s cattle auction is packed most Tuesday afternoons with farmers looking to increase their herd numbers

I had the opportunity to go to work with my dad for a few days. Our cattle auction is on Tuesdays, so most of our work usually surrounds that to-do list. This usually includes hauling in cattle for farmers who are selling a calf crop or entire herd that week, along with feeding some of the stocker cows and calves we keep around.

My dad hires out cattle haulers when we have large groups of cattle to move
My dad hires out cattle haulers when we have large groups of cattle to move

For this visit, we had to make a trip to Northeast Arkansas to haul cattle for a farmer who was selling out his entire herd. A few years of drought, combined with high input costs, and appealing auction prices have made this sort of trip a common occurrence.

What made this hauling trip a little different was that we were headed to Goobertown. Most folks may think I’m pulling your leg, but no, really. There is a town just outside of Jonesboro called Goobertown. Travelers even make it a regular stop to pick up the infamous t-shirts.

Yes. it's a real place
Yes. Goobertown is a real place

What must-haves are on your list for every trip home?

Family and Farming will persist through the Arkansas drought

A special Thank You to @Urban Magazine from Fort Smith, Arkansas for featuring my story and insight on this year’s drought and its impact on the farming community. Be sure to check out the original story and leave a comment on the @Urban Magazine website.

Ryan Goodman is tracking the extreme drought from his home in Tennessee. He watches closely, the statistics that show eighty percent of the Arkansas’ pastureland scorched beneath the brutal sun, hay prices spiking, and estimates that the fallout of historic drought could be as high as billions of dollars.

His interest is two-fold. As a twenty-three-year-old grad student studying animal science, he’s studying the effects of the worst drought Arkansas has seen in fifty years. And as the son of a Searcy rancher and cattle auctioneer, he has a personal interest in what’s unfolding here.

Ryan is stoic about the current condition. Ice storms, floods, drought. The rancher’s life is hinged with weather. But this summer has been extraordinary. No rain, sweltering heat, no rain, the cycle like a song set on repeat. And then NOAA released word that in July the U.S. broke a heat record that hadn’t been surpassed the Dust Bowl summer of 1936.

The weather is driving many of the ranchers who come to his father’s  Arkansas Cattle Auction in Searcy to sell their stock. Two to three times as many cows have gone to market as in a typical summer, and when they sell mature cows this year, they’ll have fewer calves next year. The dilemma drew the attention of CBS News. They came to see the weathered ranchers pulling up in big trucks, their trailers filled with cattle they wouldn’t otherwise be selling. The stories stung. A rancher whose wife was too brokenhearted to attend, another rancher from Oklahoma who was buying this year because his own herd was hit by the crippling drought last year, a cattleman worried because his stock pond is all but gone. It’s hard for Ryan’s father, who is friends with many in the crowd. He knows this year will mark the last for some of them, and many of those dropping out will be the older cattlemen. In a state where there are 49,300 farms and 1.7 million head of cattle, it’s bound to have an impact.

When Ryan talks about his father, he grows nostalgic. He learned at his father’s feet, trailing him in the pastures early after school, driving a tractor to check cows when he was ten. His father is a self-made man; he doesn’t come from a long line of cattle owners, but when he landed a job managing a 3,500 acre ranch in Searcy, raising Angus cattle, he knew he was where he was supposed to be.

“I love the lifestyle, working with the land,” Ryan says. “The animals depend on us for everything. Growing up, my holidays were spent taking care of cattle. I was the oldest of five, and on Christmas, we’d either get up early and open gifts or we’d be up at the break of dawn feeding cattle, so we could get to the grandparents’ house to eat dinner.

“I learned life lessons like leadership and responsibility. I realized, going through college, that there are people out there who don’t have the appreciation for work and responsibility that I had the blessing to learn, growing up on a farm. Less than two percent of the country is directly involved with farming or ranching. I think we’ve become spoiled. We can go up to Walmart and buy our food, and we don’t really know where it comes from. I think we’ve lost our connection with the farmers and ranchers, and we don’t understand the hard work that it takes to get that food to your table. If I could do one thing, it would be to encourage people to go out and meet their farmers, to talk to them when you go out to fall festivals or farmers markets. Get to know what they do, ask for a tour of a farm. Start making that connection.”

Ryan has spent his whole life making the connection. While attending Oklahoma State University, he spent summers at places like the Texas feed yards, where he helped bring food to 60,000 head of cattle. It took a million pounds of feed to get the job done each day, which came from the feed mill on site.

He also worked at a ranch in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, a place he still loves. While he was there, he started to blog, sharing his experiences with friends and family and city folks who were fascinated to follow a young cowboy on his great adventure.

When he’s finished with his graduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Ryan plans to work in several parts of the country, learning different farming techniques. But he’ll probably end up back home in Arkansas one day. His roots run deep. And he likes working with his father. He calls his life blessed.

Watching the effects of the drought has been hard. He knows the weather is forcing many good people out. “More of our land is being sold to those wanting to build houses, so land competition is high. Ranchers, particularly the smaller farmers with fewer resources, facing this drought may give up and sell everything for urban development. That could take a big toll on the numbers of cows we have.”

Even so, Ryan isn’t pessimistic. “We’ll continue to have cattle,” he says. “It’s too big a part of our economy not to.”

So he looks ahead. “If the spring rains come,” he says, “and the grass grows green, things will pick up.” And then he turns the story back to his father, a man he says devotes his life to helping the cattlemen around him. “My dad will work really hard to help the ranchers buy back cattle to rebuild their stock. He is always giving back, offering ranchers advice on feed, just supporting those around him.”

It’s all you can do at times like these. Hope for the best. Next year could be better. The rains could fall and the fields overflow with hay. It’s a rancher’s right to imagine it. Let’s just hope he’s right.

Isaac brings rain, worries and relief for Arkansas drought

Photo Credit: NOAA

Hurricane Isaac’s approach to Arkansas and the Midwestern states couldn’t be more of a blessing. These areas are in great need of significant rainfall. My thoughts go out to those affected by the significant flooding and wind damage on the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Even though some forecasts are calling for up to 8 inches of rain for parts of Arkansas and flooding conditions will be likely, I have a feeling many will welcome the relief to this year’s Exceptional drought. It won’t be the slow, soaking rain we’ve been praying for, but it will bring relief in the way of filling water reservoirs and streams.

Hurricane Isaac and Arkansas Farming

Arkansas farmers have been scurrying to bring in mature crops that are ready to harvest. This includes a large number of grains, including the largest rice crop in the country. When the storm moves in, strong winds can blow down plants and cause seed heads to sprout and become moldy. To complicate things even more, barge traffic on the Mississippi (a major shipment route for Arkansas crops) has been halted due to low water levels, and now is closed because of hurricane conditions down-stream. Janice Person explains more about the impact of Isaac and crop harvest.

Cattle continue to move to markets in large numbers and the markets continue to hold high, mostly do to out-of-state buyers. Replacement quality cows continue to be a hot commodity. Dry, mature cows brought up to $137 per cwt (or $1.37 per pound), which figures more than $1600 per head. The market report from my family’s cattle auction shows slaughter cattle and calf markets holding strong. Buyers were hesitant this week; likely due to threat of flooding rain from Isaac.

Arkansas drought continues to burn up pastures

Despite all this talk of rain and flooding that looms, a drought still persists over much of the country, as is reflected in today’s update of the Drought Monitor. A few weeks ago I was able to make a trip home, traveling through Northwest Tennessee, the Missouri Bootheel, and much of Northeast Arkansas. The trip and scenes of the drought stricken fields was absolutely devastating and depressing. Only irrigated fields and crops remained green, even these were stressed by the intense heat.

My family’s best pastures are nothing but dirt and dead stems of what was once pasture forage. My dad has been feeding hay since late June. We mostly stocker cattle (feed them for a short amount of time rather than raise a permanent herd for a calf-crop) so we can manage the increase in cost of feed. But most farmers cannot afford the expensive feed.

Mr. Bill Pruitt, who was featured in our recent story on CBS News, brought a load of cows to the auction barn while I was in town. He’s selling his cows, 10 at a time, until something changes or he sells them all. I’ll admit, that was a hard moment to swallow.

A very awakening moment for me was feeding alfalfa hay on our best hay pasture. Dad is flaking it out in different areas of the pasture, hoping to avoid compaction of the soil and trying to spread out the cattle so manure will not pile up in one area. We’d love to fence the cattle off of more pasture to prevent root damage (from over grazing and pulling the dead grass), but due to the little amount of water left, we have to utilize all pasture land.

Another moment that stopped me in my tracks was seeing the number of trees that have already shed most of their leaves. There are numerous ponds that are dried up, or nearing that point. Large spans of dried pond bank are littered with skeletons of fish that died when the water level became too low. Wildlife came and stripped the edible potions, leaving only the skeleton and head.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The moisture received in portions of the country affected by drought conditions will be welcomed relief. Not the kind we were looking for, but relief none the less. Here’s hoping for few tornadoes, decreasing winds, and limited flooding.

Enhanced by Zemanta