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Beef executive touts fitness, treks across Sunflower State

By Dave Bergmeier

Participating in Bike Across Kansas gave Todd Johnson an opportunity to renew friendships, enjoy the outdoors and promote beef.

Johnson, a native Kansan, is vice president of federation services with the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He has been with NCBA for nearly five years, and his duties include overseeing services provided to state beef councils.

In June he participated in Bike Across Kansas, an annual event in which riders traveled 555 miles across the Sunflower State. The June 7-14 BAK route started in the southwest corner at Elkhart and ended in Highland, about 30 miles west of St. Joseph, Missouri.

A high school friend, Sharon Thieszen, who now lives in Wisconsin, convinced him to take the trip. Her father was a former BAK participant. Growing up in a small town, Johnson remembered the friendliness of BAK riders as well as their commitment to traveling across the state. The beef executive also enjoys the “less traveled highways,” and BAK gives him an opportunity to see rural communities that he could identify with in the heartland.

“I thought it was a neat way to see Kansas and it was a good way to reconnect to Kansas,” Johnson said. “I can see and hear everything at a biker’s speed and see it and hear it. You cannot get the same sights and sounds at highway speed in a car.”

As he rode by the feedlots in southwest Kansas he could see cattle being fed and cowboys riding the pens. It also was a reminder of what he has known for several years, which is the drought has taken its toll on the Southern Plains.

“You can see by the empty lots in the feedlots,” Johnson said. “The drought has hit the cow-calf producers and it has manifested itself in the feedlots.”

Higher prices for cattle have in the short run helped cow-calf producers, who have received higher prices despite having to reduce the size of their herds. The same could not be said for feedlots and packing plants, who have had to pay high prices to acquire cattle.

“The feedyards and packers have taken the brunt,” he said.

Recent rains in key livestock producing states have let some optimism return to the industry, which was encouraging, Johnson said.

“It will take time,” he said about increasing the nation’s herd of beef cattle.

Johnson grew up on a diversified farm operation that includes a commercial cowherd and backgrounding feedlot near Marquette in central Kansas. Before taking his current job, he was executive director of the Kansas Beef Council and was a staff member at the Kansas Livestock Association and American Hereford Association. He is a 1994 graduate of Kansas State University with a degree in agricultural economics with an animal science option.

Taking the Biking Across Kansas trip meant taking a week’s vacation, which he was glad to do.

“I thought this was a good opportunity to get some exercise on my vacation,” he quipped. “With email and cell phones I can keep up with what’s going on.”

His Team Beef biking jersey has a steak imprinted on it with the signature phrase “Beef It’s What’s For Dinner.” The jersey has caught the attention of those on the trip. When he hears comments, it opens a door to help educate people about the value of beef as an important protein source in the diet, and it stresses the value of regular exercise. It fits into the industry Johnson is in. The NCBA uses checkoff dollars to educate consumers and promote the beef industry.

Team Beef is a concept he likes, too. For example, the Kansas Beef Council has a team that runs in marathons and half marathons. He likes the message that is sent out to consumers.

“You can be active, clean and strong, and beef fits into that diet,” Johnson said.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached by calling 620-227-1822 or by email at dbergmeier@hpj.com.

Date: 6/30/2014

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