Why I Occupy My Food Supply


When was the last time you walked down the grocery aisle and looked at food labels. I bet you probably look at the Nutritional Facts and maybe a few flashy labels for the latest trending buzz word. But have you looked at the manufacturer information on the label? Or even the country of origin label? There’s a reason that information is on there.

I come from an Arkansas ranching family. As a kid I had the responsibility of caring for animals around the house while my parents were busy working on a ranch they managed away from home. During the course of my childhood we had chickens, hogs, rabbits, cattle, donkeys, horses, dogs, cats, and even an orphan deer. I’d get up every morning and feed the calves and gather the show cattle into the barns for the day. I remember well carrying up to 4 bottles full of warm milk to the barn on very cold winter mornings and watching the sun rise while cleaning water tanks. During the summer I was sweating before 5:30 and boy was that ice thick in the winter. When I got home from school, I’d fire up the 4-wheeler and haul a few square bales and check for newborn calves in the pasture. There were several times when I had to assist a cow who had trouble calving. I didn’t know how good I had it.

The calves that I fed at the house, along with the thousands my family cared for at work all went to commercial feedyards in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles. My vacations as a kid were spent on a trip to those arid regions to look at our cattle in the yards. We paid the feed bill and the people there would take care of our cattle for 120-150 days while on their finishing ration. After attending college for a few years I had the opportunity to work in these feedyards.

It was different changing from a family farm to one of the largest cattle feeding operations in the world. I worked in every single position in the feedyards. Each employee had a different story. Each had a strong passion for doing their job well. From the guy feeding hay every day, to the feed mill operators, I was amazed at their pride in doing a good job. The pen riders were a different breed, solemn cowboys who could tell you the attitude and history of every single pen of cattle. They rode every pen, every day, and saw every head of cattle on the yard. That takes dedication, yet they still had a passion for doing their job to the best of their ability. Every one of the employees had a vested financial interest in making sure the cattle were cared for and fed correctly. The managers tolerated my constant strain of questions, about health care and well-being of my cattle on the yard. It was pretty cool to see cattle from home after they had been on the yard for 90 or more days through the times they were finished and ready for harvest.

One day, the cattle buyer took me to the Tyson harvest plant in Amarillo. That place was so big! Every where you look, everyone was busy. I remember talking to the USDA inspectors. Their sole job was to make sure every animal that came into the facility was handled in a calm manner, was unconscious when bled out, and that all protocols were used to prevent contamination of our food product. From the harvest floor to the final boxing, everyone knew their job and how to do it well. I talked to many employees and they knew so much about the transition from live animal to the steak that ends up on my plate. It was truly a unique process to witness.

Well since I finished college in Oklahoma, I went back to work in the feedyards for a bit. Worked for the largest cattle feeding company in the world, and even learned that it is owned by a family. The family’s passion carried all the way down the chain, to the newest of employees. A pretty neat team to be a part of.

So what is my point to telling this story?

From my first-hand experience corporate food production doesn’t make up the entire agriculture chain. It may be the end-point for most food production, but MOST ALL FOOD has origins with family farmers and ranchers. People like my family who raise cattle for a living, work hard at it, and passionately care for the quality of food that ends up on our plates. That passion carries all the way from start to finish, from gate to plate. Less than 2% of Americans have the opportunity to experience raising food. I wish more had the opportunity.

The system we have works. Is there room for improvement? Sure, there always is. At least we still have a choice where we get our food. Some countries in this world don’t. Before you criticize those working hard to produce the food on our plates, take a moment to get to know them, and learn why they do their jobs. Agriculture, It’s more than part of life. It’s a passion, a lifestyle, a resilient community that works hard to feed the world!

Before we start fighting about 'Corporate Food' let's think about the faces of agriculture behind that food.
Before we start fighting about ‘Corporate Food’ let’s think about the faces of agriculture behind that food.

Here’s some links to thoughts from others

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10 Comments

  1. Well put. But like you said, that country of labeling comes with pit falls. I’m from Alberta and we’re on the other side of that labeling. Labeling that’s labeled us different from the U.S beef supply. I travel down to Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado a bit. The Rocky Mountain range. I feel as at home there as I do in Alberta. It’s all western traditions, western ranching, western lifestyle. But this labeling has drawn a line through our western ranching family. A political line on a map that runs across the rockies. Ranching doesn’t run east/west like the border. Ranching runs north south with it’s heart in the foothills of the rockies. Lines that divide and define that just don’t make sense.

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  2. Stew meat from Mexico. Onions, garlic, catfish and shrimp form China (and other East Asia countries) Add to that the fact I’m paying $420 a ton for hay here in west Texas while we are shipping millions of tons of hay to China.

    When you think about the poverty and hunger problems in the countries we are getting food from, and the fact that the only reason we have a hay “shortage” is because of the “global economy” it angers me. World trade is good, and has been done since the days of the Phoenicians, however it is no longer trade. You take care of your necessities at home, then trade abroad, trading your excess for what you do not have enough of.

    We are letting people in foreign countries go hungry while putting farmers here out of business by importing what we can produce ourselves. We are further hurting agriculture (and the food supply) in this country by shipping hay overseas which should be fed in this country rather than creating an artificial shortage here…

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    1. I’m not so sure I’d agree with that so fast. First, hay’s an agricultural commodity just as beef is. Beef exports are boosted by having China as a buyer, so why shouldn’t hay producers get that same benefit? Second, what country are you getting food from that has a hunger problem? Third, I don’t think the “only” reason you have a hay shortage is because of the global economy. I think the weather and subsequent drought there had a bit to do with the hay shortage as well.

      Just think, if Canada wanted lower fuel costs, we could stop supplying the U.S with oil, making fuel more expensive there, making hay costs even more. I’d like lower fuel costs, it would boost my bottom line. But I can’t just think about myself. It’s always easy to just think about what you could do in your own country to make things better, but you’ve gotta think of the benifits you’re already getting that may be costing someone else.

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  3. I’m not saying that it is the “only” reason.I am saying that trade is exchanging things you have an excess of for things you don’t have enough of.

    Mexico, China, India, and ANY south American country you can name has a food shortage, and we are seeing food products in the stores form all of these countries.

    .We actually have enough oil that we should not have to buy any from Canada or anywhere else.., but our EPA restricts drilling to make an artificial shortage. When it comes right down to it, beef exports do not help the producers…

    This whole world trade (as it is carried out today) is not trade, but exploitation of whoever can be exploited. Ford, GM & Chrysler have manufacturing plants in Mexico…The starting wage is $2.50 an hour with the TOP line worker wage being $10 an hour, yet they sell the vehicles here in the states as if it was costing them $60 an hour in labor.

    Back in the 90’s when the Canadian dollar was $0.48 US, the price for a new pickup in Canada was the exact same price in Canadian dollars as the identical truck in the US (made in Canada) was in US dollars.This is exactly what they are now doing with food and forage crops only with the result of putting producers here out of business while allowing people in other countries to go hungry…Well not really….we send aid to them so we are paying even more…

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    1. “I’m not saying that it is the “only” reason”

      You said in your first post,

      “and the fact that the only reason we have a hay “shortage” is because of the “global economy” it angers me.”

      Mexico, well maybe. I was more thinking of mass starvation issues like in Africian countries. But really food shortages can be attributed to every country.

      And I’m not sure how you can say,

      “beef exports do not help the producers”

      According to my stats, the U.S exports about 10% of it’s beef. That’s up 8% since 2004 when most markets were closed because of BSE. And since 2007 with more markets opening up, the price per 100 weight of finished steers went up $21. An 18% increase in price. How is that not a good thing to producers?

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  4. You do have to admit that 80 million tons of hay would relieve a lot of our hay shortage. You are also buying into the myth that if you raise cattle you are in the beef business. That is like claiming that running an iron mine means you are in the steel business or if you mine gold, you are in the jewelry business,.

    Unless a producer is retaining ownership across the rail AND exporting beef, they are not in the beef export business. What beef we export is largely offset by beef we import from other countries.One also needs to look at prices from two different angles.

    Looking at cattle prices from an historical viewpoint and taking inflation into consideration prices for live cattle were actually higher in 1979 when 500 pound calves were bringing $125 cwt. At that time,12 calves would buy a new pickup while it takes between 30 and 40 calves to buy a new pickup.

    In 1997/98, the southwest United States had a drought and lost over 100,000 head of cattle with several hundred thousand more lost in the north and Midwest from an extremely harsh winter. Cattle prices should have been high here, but calves were only bringing $60cwt because of the “glut” of cattle. Do you think the price of BEEF in the supermarkets dropped? Didn’t change a thing at the consumer level because cattle prices have little to do with beef prices.
    How did we manage to lose so many cattle and still have a glut on the market? Because there were convoys of cattle trucks coming out of Canada headed to the packing plants with “for slaughter only” stickers on them.

    This brings us back to our current hay shortage in the US. If I was a betting man, I’d bet that while our hay prices are being driven up by that eighty million tons of hay being exported to China, there are producers there losing money because of the “cheap” hay being imported into China.

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