So in the past 60 days I have been looking far and wide for folks, particularly in the meat business, who have already sought out better revenue opportunities for the animals they produce.
With that in mind, I have just finished my Rural Route Radio program with Patrick Robinette from North Carolina and clearly he is a price maker, not a price taker. Thirty years ago, Kelli and I would go to conferences and symposiums and the take home message was always to be a price maker and all of a sudden people are taking notice, but Harris-Robinette Beef beat all of us to the punch 20 years ago with their grass-fed program.
“You can’t get lending off of what you don’t know,” said Robinette in this radio conversation and honestly it is the one problem I feel some have a terrible time overcoming. How can we put more certainty in our revenue supply? We currently see a price gouging taking place particularly in the beef business. If you continue to be a price taker you have no choice but to bleed badly, but what are the realistic options?
As I write this I am wondering what is the realistic point of view of every single person getting closer to the consumer? I don't think that is the case at all. You see, I think far too many times we pigeonhole ourselves into believing that one size fits all. I continue to see a tremendous upside in the big packers. In fact, I find the statistics very interesting as he brought the real numbers to the radio airwaves. In the United States today, there are 1,184 individual meat packing facilities of which 24 are owned by the big four beef packers.
Recognize that 98% of the world's population lives somewhere other than the U.S. The big systems, from start to finish, are in a tremendous economy of scale to efficiently produce the highest quality, safest food supply at the lowest cost. I think that a ton of Americans and all the foreign markets will be a great option for this system on the other side of the bottleneck. By the way, it is easy to be critical today of the bottleneck but for at least 60 years the system has worked flawlessly for the consumer.
Now for the reset button on the food system, because yes, I do believe we need a reset. We need an increase in local meat infrastructure systems. I think all animal owners agree to that today. But my word of caution is huge, we do not want the government or the current meat packing system to make this happen. The animal owners, those of us with the most skin in the game, need to be the drivers.
We need the U.S. Department of Agriculture to treat small and mid-sized meat packers exactly as they treat the largest among us. To be clear, they do not do that today. They slant everything to benefit the size and scale and this one size fits all approach to the HAACP (regulatory pressures) program must be the only place USDA fits into the solution. One additional thing along these lines, I do not believe USDA needs to approve all transactions of milk, meat or eggs. If I want to sell beef from my freezer to my neighbor who is Big Brother to say that a willing buyer and seller can’t do business? Big Brother needs to back off and let folks determine their own measure of food safety. We tend to forget that 90% of all food safety matters occur during food prep anyway.
Robinette drove home the message that if you do what you have always done, you will not get what you expect you should. He was also refreshingly clear to share that he has diversified his marketing but not his production. I am as guilty as the next guy for making excuses about why this animal or that animal failed this time but we should give her one more try.
My question for you in May 2020 is this: do you have one more try in you? Can you give it a better go than the last time around? Perhaps change your mindset or your approach to give yourself the opportunity for a better outcome? Or will you just keep doing what you've always done and keep hoping for a different result or someone to bail you out?
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.