EP. 25 - Meat-ing Customer Needs with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Certified Angus Beef

September 28, 2021

EP. 25 - Meat-ing Customer Needs with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Certified Angus Beef

Sep 28, 2021

Key Issues:Animal Agriculture

NCBA’s Colin Woodall and CAB’s Nicole Erceg discuss corn partnerships and how you might be cooking steak wrong.

 

After a long day in the field, there's no reward like a tender juicy, corn-fed cut of steak.

 

And it's made all the sweeter by the fact that the US beef industry is one of the largest consumers of American corn.

 

So, in this episode, we're going to talk to two beef industry leaders, Collin Woodall from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Nicole Erceg from Certified Angus Beef, about how corn growers can be good partners to the beef industry, what it means to meet modern consumer expectations, and how you might be cooking your steaks wrong.

 

As Nicole notes, sustainability is a team sport. And with consumer expectations evolving year in and year out, close partnerships between corn growers and beef producers are more important than ever before.

 

Colin shared his favorite recipe for Grilled Cowboy Steaks.

 

And Nicole invites you to:

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Nicole Erceg:

I think sustainability is a team sport. It's a complex process. And I think the more collaboration we have, I think it's only going to make us better. And it's only going to make our stories stronger. Approaching sustainability as a collaborative effort is key for this to continue to be an opportunity for our industry and not an issue, as I know that it feels sometimes.

 

Dusty Weis:

Hello and welcome to Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. This is where leaders, growers, and stakeholders in the corn industry can turn for big picture conversations about the state of the industry and future. I'm Dusty Weis and I'll be introducing your host, association CEO, Jon Doggett. From the fields of the corn belt to the DC beltway. We're making sure the growers who feed America have a say in the issues that are important to them with key leaders who are shaping the future of agriculture.

 

Dusty Weis:

After a long day in the field, there's no reward like a tender, juicy corn-fed cut of steak, and it's made all the sweeter by the fact that the US beef industry is one of the largest consumers of American corn. So, in this episode, we're going to talk to two beef industry leaders, Collin Woodall from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Nicole Erceg from Certified Angus Beef about how corn growers can be good partners to the beef industry, what it means to meet modern consumer expectations and how you might be cooking your steaks wrong. But if you haven't yet, make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app. Also, make sure you follow the NCGA on Twitter @nationalcorn and signup for the National Corn Growers Association newsletter at ncga.com.

 

Dusty Weis:

And with that it's time to once again introduce Jon. Jon Doggett, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. And Jon, we live in a consumer-driven world and it can be a lot when you're focused on producing the best quality grain that you can. So, as puzzling as some of these trends may be to us at times, understanding what's really driving this behavior is an important part of running a successful farming operation.

 

Jon Doggett:

Dusty, they say the customer's always right. So, today this week combines are firing up across most of the corn belt, and we're going to focus on one of the biggest customers and that's the US beef industry. And we're going to learn and talk about what consumer-focused means to them and what we can do to help them be even better at all the great things that they already are doing. So, joining me today to help us all better understand what's driving the consumer these days is National Cattlemen's Beef Association's CEO, Collin Woodall, and Nicole Erceg Certified Angus Beef's communications director. Nicole, Collin, welcome.

 

Nicole Erceg:

Thanks for having us.

 

Collin Woodall:

Appreciate the opportunity, Jon.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, it's lunchtime here in DC and by the way, I haven't had lunch yet, but since we're going to talk about beef, it seems it's only appropriate we start off the conversation. What is your favorite beef dish? Nicole, we're going to start with you.

 

Nicole Erceg:

Well, for me, man, it's probably anything our chefs put in front of me. I love beef, but I'm a west coast gal, grew up in Oregon. So, my favorite cut of beef is a tri-tip. That's one of my favorite things to cook. It's what we served at our wedding. I'm never going to turn down tri-tip.

 

Jon Doggett:

All right, Collin.

 

Collin Woodall:

Jon, for me, it's the ribeye. I could eat my weight in rib eyes, but more specifically is any time you can find a nice ribeye cap, grilled.

Man, I'm in heaven.

 

Dusty Weis:

And guys, if you have any favorite recipes that you want to share, go ahead and fire that over to us later, we can actually drop that in the episode description with link to your individual organization and anyone listening can cook up your favorite and beef dish right at home. If they feel like it.

 

Jon Doggett:

And all you guys did was make me even more hungry, but I'm with you, Collin, I'm a ribeye guy, always have been, and maybe that's what we'll do this weekend. So, Collin, you've got a big job at a very big organization. So, give us an overview of NCBA and your scope of work for the cattle producers of this country.

 

Collin Woodall:

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is the oldest and largest national trade association representing US cattle producers. We've been around since 1898. In fact, today I'm sitting in our headquarters office in Denver, Colorado, and just out my window, I'm looking at a bunch of rooftops that a 100 years ago was a ranch of the very first president of this association. So, we are still very close to home and still very producer-focused. Now we've had various names over the years and ultimately we became the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in 1996. And that is when the National Cattlemen's Association joined forces with the beef industry council of the National Livestock and Meat Board to then form in NCBA. And while we look at the entire beef supply chain and represent components of the entire beef supply chain, our focus is on the producer, whether that's a cow-calf producer, a seed stock producer, a cattle feeder, those who are, as we like to say, getting manure on their boots every day, producing high-quality beef.

 

Collin Woodall:

And the reason why we can produce the high-quality beef that we can is because of the great corn that your members grow, Jon. And that's why this partnership has been so productive over the years and why it's so important and why having the opportunity to be with you here today is a really good one to talk more about that. Our focus is again on the producer, but at the same time in the work that we're doing, we have to have eyes on all components of this beef supply chain. And we need to what the consumer's thinking.

 

Collin Woodall:

We need to know what's going on in the retail meat case. We need to know what the restaurants are dealing with. We need to know what the packers and processors are dealing with. And we have to make sure that everybody who is supplying a good to us, whether that's equipment, whether that is credit, whether that is feed the different veterinary drugs that we do is also a big component of what NCBA does. And so that's why we like to say that we represent this industry from farm to fork or from pasture to plate.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well and for purposes of full disclosure, my family's been a long-time member of your organization. And in fact, many years ago, I worked for the National Cattleman's Association before it became the NCBA. So, Nicole, Certified Angus Beef, that's probably one of the greatest marketing stories ever told by the commodity world. How'd that come to be? And how do you amplify that message?

 

Nicole Erceg:

I love that best marketing story ever told. We wouldn't consider ourselves a commodity, more of a beef brand, but for anyone who's not familiar with the Certified Angus Beef brand, we are the original brand of Angus beef. We're based in Wooster, Ohio. And we are owned and led by family, farmers and ranchers. So, Angus ranchers are the ones that lead our business, that own our business, but we consider ourselves more than just Angus beef, because only the very best beef makes our cut. We have 10 standards for quality that guarantee any time that you see our logo out there and you get certified Angus beef, that it's going to be tender, juicy and flavorful, whether you are cooking at home or you're dining at one of the best steakhouses. When it comes to what our brand does. I mean, like I said, we're owned by ranchers, but we're the idea of an Angus breeder and it all started with him having a bad steak in a steakhouse in the 1970s.

 

Nicole Erceg:

And he thought, man, if consumers are looking and buying Angus beef and it has a bad reputation and they're having a bad eating at experience, that's going to impact how I can sell my cattle. And he wrote a letter and kind of designed the organization that we have today. So, we've been around for more than 40 years. We serve cattlemen by focusing on the end beef consumer. So, my team would talk to people across the supply chain from producers to that end consumer, but we know that the only new money in the beef business is in the wallets of the people who are eating our product.

 

Nicole Erceg:

So, we serve cattlemen by serving that end consumer, giving them tools to cook and eat and enjoy beef. And also taking the guest work out of finding the best beef in the meat case. To put us into scale for anyone who's not familiar with our brand, we market about 1.2 billion pounds of beef a year. Represent about 20% of the fed cattle supply. And in terms of serving producers in benefiting producers, because that's what our brand is all about, we put about a million dollars of premiums in the pockets of producers per week. So, our brand generates about $92 million a year in group premiums that cattlemen get for raising the best.

 

Jon Doggett:

Okay. So, at corn, we feel some of that consumer pressure from time to time, but the truth is corn is several steps removed from the average consumer. That's a lot different for you guys. You're about as consumer-facing as it gets. Knowing that, what are some of the consumer trends you're following right now, Nicole?

 

Nicole Erceg:

So, I would say the number one consumer trend, and whether you want to call it a trend or a mainstay is flavor and taste. That's why people buy beef. That's what draws them to beef. And I would say, Jon, corn is a key ingredient in our product, because you get great-tasting beef through marbling and manned corn-fed cattle, they are the ones that marble. So, we are a brand that's built around flavor and delivering on flavor and quality and that juicy, tender goodness that beef is known for. But we also know that consumer expectations around beef are expanding. It's not enough to just have a good-tasting product, especially as we look generationally, we need to deliver a good-tasting product that also has a great experience and a great story. People want to know that they can eat beef and not feel bad about it, that they can feel good about what we're doing for the environment, how that animal was raised and how that product got to them when they put it on their table.

 

Jon Doggett:

Collin, what are some of the consumer trends that you're looking at from your side of the industry?

 

Collin Woodall:

Well, Nicole definitely hit on a key one and that is flavor. I mean the flavor of beef, what we provide the consumer is why we have such a successful industry and why people keep coming back. But when you look at some of the other trends that we're following, a lot of it is this desire for more local product. And that was a result of what we saw throughout the COVID pandemic. People wanting to find something local. And I think that's not only an opportunity for us to just better showcase what we do on the land to have a closer relationship with the consumer, but it's also going to provide a lot of opportunities for our producers to say that they can take an additional step or take responsibility for an additional step in processing their cattle and doing something, whether that's freezer beef, whether that's local farmer's markets or looking at some more regional or local type brands.

 

Collin Woodall:

And I think that's going to continue to grow here over the next several years. I think that is a fad or a trend that is here to stay, not just a flash in the pan because of COVID. So, we're excited about that. COVID kind of brought around a bit of a beef Renaissance for us. When you look at where we were before the pandemic, we really concerned about fake meat, whether that was Beyond product, Impossible product, plant-based products, or even looking at what is going on as far as cell-based or the test tube beef, if you will. And we were really concerned. I thought that this was a true threat to our industry, and spent a lot of time working on that. Then the pandemic hit. And all of a sudden we saw this amazing response from the consumer because you'd go to a grocery store and that meat case would be absolutely just cleaned out.

 

Collin Woodall:

There was no beef to be found. And that showed quite clearly that while yes, there are some alternatives out there, the consumer is still with us and it's back to that taste. So, I think that we're going to continue to be able to capitalize on that, look at some of these local opportunities, but also start focusing more on outreach to the consumer regarding more convenient ways to prepare beef, because that trend that we saw throughout the pandemic has maintained as far as people eating more beef at home. And that's also something that we're going to be able to make a lot of hay out of as an industry.

 

Dusty Weis:

Collin and Nicole, I'm really intrigued by the fact that being two big industry groups that both of your groups have really sort of embraced this move among consumers for more transparency and more information about the food that they're eating. And for me, I grew up in a small town out in corn country. And when we needed some cuts of steak, dad would drive up the road to Hoesly's Meats and buying it from a butcher that he knew, that came from a farm just down the road. And it was really a very transparent operation. You knew right where your food was coming from. And so in a lot of ways, I feel like this broader movement among consumers now is scratching the itch that we've heard from growers for a long time, that, oh, well, people don't know where their food comes from. People don't have an interest. They think that food comes from the grocery store. What factors do you think matter the most when families are trying to figure out what's right for them and their family?

 

Collin Woodall:

Well, I think there's several things that they consider. One, having that face-to-face interaction with somebody who actually produced the at beef is key. Whenever you can have an interaction or a business transaction, rather with somebody that you can look at eyeball to eyeball, it makes all the difference in the world. You build a relationship, you can hear their story. And as we see Americans wanting to know more about where their beef comes from, they're asking the questions about how it's raised, our impact on the environment, et cetera. You can get that by having that one-on-one relationship. So, there's a lot that we can gain there, but we also have to be very careful that while yes, there is a segment of our consumers that wants that interaction, not everybody necessarily does and not everybody necessarily wants to pay for it.

 

Collin Woodall:

So, we have to make it very clear that beef that you get here in the United States is safe. It's high quality, it's nutritious, regardless of whether you got it from the farmer or rancher up the road, or you went to your local supermarket. And I think that's something that we're very proud of as an industry is that we have multiple outlets for somebody to go to procure beef for their family. And we know that they can have a great eating experience, again, regardless of which choice they make as far as where they purchase it.

 

Nicole Erceg:

Yeah. I think when we talk about consumers, sometimes we end up turning it into this mythical mystery type of creature and forget that we're consumers. Consumers are just people. They're home cooks, they're moms, they're backyard barbecuers, they're business guys that are going out to have dinner. And like you said, Collin some of them want more information about where their food comes from. And some of them just want to have a great night out, or mom just wants to get dinner on the table and have kids eat it. So, I think we need to be able to have that information available for those consumers that want it. We absolutely have to supply that story for some of them that really want to know that further information, but also be able to deliver a good product in a convenient way for those that just want to have beef for dinner. I think for us, one of the ways that I really liked what you said about relationships, Collin, because that's what I think this is. The better one-on-one relationship that we can build with our consumer.

 

Nicole Erceg:

I think the better they're going to feel about the product that they're buying. And I think one of the ways that we do that is a brand is talk to people like their people and try to that connection to them. But it's also arming the people that are having that conversation. So, we can't get everyone on a ranch. We can't put a rancher in every grocery store for them to have that kind of connection or that experience that you talked about, Dusty, that you had growing up, but we will take meat managers out on the ranch. We will arm those types of people with the stories of producers or wait staff that are at a restaurant. I've taken wait staff members out to a ranch to experience where our product comes from. So, that when a consumer is asking that question of the guy behind the meat counter or the gal that's taken their order for dinner, that they can tell a story of where our product comes from. And one that makes people feel really good about it and connected to it.

 

Jon Doggett:

For so long we've, in agriculture have said, people don't know where their food comes from. And now some of my growers are saying, people want to know where their food's coming from. And the neat thing about that is we have a great story to tell. We have nothing to hide. Do we have a few problems? Yes, we do. Any industry does, but we have so many things that we can be absolutely proud and talk to up consumers about. And I think that's really kind of the neat thing that we have an opportunity and, Collin, to your point. Certainly, the pandemic has allowed the spotlight to fall on us in a really good way. And we can have that discussion. I want to turn to a different topic and before we get too deep into it, I have to ask a question. Have each of you had fake meat?

 

Nicole Erceg:

Yep.

 

Collin Woodall:

Yes. Unfortunately.

 

Nicole Erceg:

You got to do a taste test. You got to know.

 

Jon Doggett:

Yeah. You got to know. I've tried it three times and I have to say that it's not bad if you have a really, really thick bun and you put a lot of cheese on it and ketchup up and mustard, mayonnaise, maybe some A.1. Sauce, pretty thick slice of onion, tomato, and some peppers. And it's not so bad.

 

Collin Woodall:

Under that scenario, Jon, a piece of cardboard would taste pretty good too.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, maybe it was, I don't know. But the thing is, I know where a real hamburger comes from. I don't know where that other hamburger comes from. And in our industry people get worried about biotech corn. What's in this other stuff? I mean, I don't want to disparage somebody else's product, but I would like them to be as transparent as we've had to be and be as transparent as you folks have had to be. But how big do you project this category to get and what kind of impact is it going to create for your industry? And Collin we'll start with you this time.

 

Collin Woodall:

Yeah, Jon, it's here to stay. There's no doubt about it, because there is some consumer demand out there for that type of product. So, as long as the consumer demand is there, there will be companies that provide it. I think what you see is folks like Impossible and Beyond are not having quite the pickup that they had anticipated. You've had restaurants who have taken on those products for their menu and have since let them go. And a lot of that is because that demand is still pretty small and I think it's going to remain that way. It's going to be there. We have to keep our eye on the ball. We can't just ignore them. We have to make sure that we're continuing to tell our story, because the interesting thing about this product is that they market their product, not on the attributes of their own patties or crumbles or whatever it may be.

 

Collin Woodall:

They market themselves often disparaging us, which is a very interesting approach in the marketing world. And you look at what we do, what Nicole does at CAB. We market ourselves on the great qualities and attributes of our product. We don't go out and just disparage chicken. That's not how we do it. We talk about our great taste, the fake meat companies aren't doing that. And I think as we talk about this transparency, as we talk about more of what we do on farms and ranches, all of a sudden we start to take that air out of their balloon a little bit. And we saw that during the pandemic, which is why I say something that we thought was really an existential threat to the future of this industry is something we're going to have deal with, but it's not necessarily going to take us down.

 

Nicole Erceg:

I think the thing that's cool about working in the beef industry is we are the original plant-based protein and that we have a really good story to tell around what cattle do and the great product that they create. I think the emergence of these products and these brands just solidify for me that the protein category is one that is a popular place to be and a profitable place to be. And to me imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. One of the ways that I look at this, I mean, we are the very first brand of Angus beef. We use the G1 a lot because we are the very first grade schedule in the packing plants. We are the first ones market beef this way 40 years ago. Today there's, I think, more than 150 grade schedules.

 

Nicole Erceg:

And about 80 of those are Angus brands. That doesn't mean that we're not successful as a brand. We still market 1.2 billion pounds of beef. So, as I think about this product category, I kind of think of it in the way that we would look at other brands or other even categories within beef or our brand is there's a place for them at the table. There's a consumer that wants them, but that doesn't limit our ability to serve those consumers and to really still be highly successful in this protein marketplace.

 

Jon Doggett:

The way you both have talked about plant-based protein is very similar to how we have been approaching the emergence of electric vehicles. And we have a product called ethanol that at a higher percentage in the tank, the less carbon that is going to emit and all we want is the same thing you would like. And that is transparency. And judge us by the same standards you judge our competition. I'm not afraid of our competition if it's a level playing field and being transparent. So, it's interesting that we both are coming at this from very much the same direction. So, one other thing, the pandemic has certainly affected how and where we eat. So much of what we were consuming before the pandemic was in the restaurant. Now it's not. What have you learned over the last 18 months? And how's that changed about how you go about your business?

 

Nicole Erceg:

Oh gosh. I think that's hard to sum up. We could do a whole podcast just about that, but I would say one major thing for us is obviously the shift from eating out to more beef at the grocery store. Saw a lot of people shift into purchasing from that retail space and cooking at home. And that was really good for us, because beef can be kind of an intimidating product. As you look at the number of cuts, trying to figure out what to buy. So, people got to experiment more with beef, and that was really good. And we are seeing lots benefits from that. People who are continuing to cook at home and people who are continuing to experiment with beef and use it more as a staple on their plate. I will tell you for us a lot of people talked about how quiet and how much time they had during quarantine.

 

Nicole Erceg:

My communications team has never been busier because man, our social views sky rocketed. People were out there looking for content on how do I cook at home? How do I cook beef? What are recipes that are available? We honestly had just a couple videos this last week that hit a million views that from people are out here looking for this content. And that has changed in a good way. I think one thing that we're still weathering is the impact that the pandemic has had on food service. This last 18 months has been a really rough time to be a restaurateur. And that has been a challenge for us. We've definitely seen some folks rebound and shift their business practices. One thing that I think we're really excited about is during this, we're not necessarily seeing a shift away from high quality meat, but you are still seeing restaurateurs struggle.

 

Nicole Erceg:

And that's been a big piece of our business. Food service and restaurant sales were about 30% for us. And when you close that down, we definitely had a lot of that shift into grocery stores, but not completely. And so we're looking forward to things picking back up again, and our restaurant community being able to recover. I do have to say that for us as a brand, we were very fortunate in how we weathered the pandemic. And I mean, it was our third best year ever in terms of sales. So, whether people are at home or they're out, we know that they want to eat really good beef.

 

Collin Woodall:

Yeah. We spend a lot of time, Jon, doing market research to find out what the consumer's thinking, what they want, what they're expecting to do moving forward. And the majority of Americans are expecting to continue to eat more meals at home. And the majority of them are saying that beef will continue to be a part of those home meals. So, that's a pretty significant departure of what we saw where most of our product was being sold through food service. The challenge then comes, is helping the consumer look at the many different ways that you can incorporate beef into daily dishes. It's more than just a hamburger or a rib eye every night. I'd be more than happy to take that rib eye every night, but that's not your average American. And so making sure that we did two things, one is to teach them to properly handle and cook beef was first and foremost, because as Nicole talked about, it was a bad beef eating experience that led to the advent of CAB.

 

Collin Woodall:

And a lot of times it only takes that one bad beef eating experience to turn somebody off. So, we needed to make sure that the consumer knows how to cook our product. And so we spent a lot of time with cooking classes, online cooking classes, cooking videos, in order to help the consumer with that. And then really start to open up our recipe library to show that it can be steak on a salad. It can be ground beef in a pasta dish. There are many ways to incorporate beef. So that way you have some variety. And much like the CAB experience, we have just been blown away with the amount of traffic that has been driven towards our videos, our online cooking classes in our recipe library. As an association, we are also a contractor to the National Beef Checkoff.

 

Collin Woodall:

And in that role, we spend a lot of time with recipe development and making sure that we can get the word out through the beef that what's for dinner campaign and assets to make that happen. But another thing of course is where will food service, where will restaurants really play into Americana moving forward. And one of the things that we have seen that we're working with is how restaurants are now doing take home steaks. A great example is Texas Roadhouse. Texas Roadhouse has been a great purveyor of beef for years. Now, you can go to a Texas Roadhouse and enjoy a steak, or you can order your beef online from Texas Roadhouse. And I think we may see more of that moving forward.

 

Dusty Weis:

Collin, I wanted to come back to something that you said there for a second, because I was one of those consumers during the pandemic who did a lot more cooking at home. And by perusing some of the new information that was out there online, it might have even been from one of your organizations. I came to realize that it is possible to over marinade a steak, like you leave it in the marinade too long and it's bad for it, breaks it down and makes it grainy and not tasty. And so you talk about educating the public about their bad meat handling practices. What are some of the other ways that I have been screwing up in the kitchen when I cook with meat?

 

Collin Woodall:

For a product that is as great tasting as it is, we do have a lot of issues that can make it not so great tasting. And you just keyed on a big one and that is over marinating. If you leave it in there too long, it does, it gets mealy. It gets kind of mushy and it is not a good meat-eating experience. Probably the biggest thing is either undercooking or over-cooking the beef, especially when you're talking about a steak. And it is easy to do. Most people don't really have that much experience cooking steaks at home. And so making sure that they can get that nice, medium, medium-rare, rather than something that is well done, especially on a nice high cut, like a rib eye is something that we have to try to impart upon these consumers.

 

Collin Woodall:

Some people like a well-done piece of meat, that's fine. We're going to let them have it. But if that's not what you're expecting and that's what you get, then all of a sudden you realize, oh, this is not so good. And then of course, probably one of the biggest things that is always a concern for us is just the handling of our product to make sure that you are handling the raw product appropriately, making sure it's refrigerated or frozen, making sure you're washing your hands, that you're not contaminating surfaces. And also how do you handle those leftovers? Assuming that there are leftovers. In my house there's never any beef leftovers, but if there are, making sure that you're handling that well too, because one of our challenges as an industry is the fact that we still have foodborne pathogens that we have to deal with. And we continue to find ways to get better at that, but we need the consumer's help in making sure that we're not getting anybody sick.

 

Dusty Weis:

Nicole, what's your favorite trick for getting the perfect medium-rare steak?

 

Nicole Erceg:

Oh, well I would say start with Certified Angus Beef, and the thing I was going to ask you, Dusty, is are you resting your steaks?

 

Dusty Weis:

I barely have time to rest myself. What's resting a steak, Nicole?

 

Nicole Erceg:

Yes. So, I would say this is probably one of the biggest mistakes we see, because you get that steak off the grill and you are just hungry and you're ready to cut into it. You need to temp it for what you want to get to medium-rare. You want it at about 135, which means I'm going to pull it off the grill, maybe 130 for my taste, and then you're going to let it sit there. I put mine on a cutting board, let it sit, leave it alone. I got to walk away. I'm not a big fan of tenting. There's all kinds of resting techniques, but I'm just going to let it sit, because you need to let those juices redistribute into the meat. And so that way, when you cut into it, you're still going to get that juicy flavor. Have you ever cut into a steak and the juices run all across your plate?

 

Dusty Weis:

All the time.

 

Nicole Erceg:

Yeah. That's the good stuff you want that in your mouth, not messing up with your potatoes or anything. So, you got to let that steak rest for depending on your cut of meat, but five to 10 minutes, even for some cuts and just let it sit there and you'll have a much better eating experience.

 

Dusty Weis:

That requires a degree of willpower I don't know if I'm capable of, Nicole.

 

Nicole Erceg:

It's hard. That's why I think a lot of people skip that step, but man, it's important.

 

Jon Doggett:

Just as important to how you cook the steak, it's to be able to have patience. And I don't have patience sometimes to let it rest. I know you need to, but sometimes I'm just too hungry.

 

Nicole Erceg:

Oh, I'm with you, but it's worth it. If you plan that into your cooking strategy and you know that I'm going to have to let it sit there. But my husband is the really good cook in our house. And I have been the person like sitting there on the counter drooling. Like, can we cut into it yet? Nope. Let it rest. It's worth it. I think the other interesting thing out of the pandemic that we saw when we're talking about techniques around beef is that a lot of people went and stocked up. Did any of you guys stock up your freezers? You're buying all this food from the grocery store.

 

Nicole Erceg:

You get a whole bunch of it when you can, you throw it in the freezer. So, we created a lot of content around how to properly dethaw meat and how to do that safely. And there's different techniques and tricks for doing that to make sure that you're still taking care of your product, how to freeze it properly and then how to unthaw it properly.

 

Dusty Weis:

Oh, I bet you, I was doing that wrong.

 

Nicole Erceg:

Well, if you head to Certified Angus Beef, our YouTube channel, our test kitchen chefs. They've got a video for you, Dusty.

 

Dusty Weis:

We'll check it out.

 

Jon Doggett:

All right, good. This has been wonderful so far. And so let's focus for a minute on sustainability, a term that we have heard for years and years and years. It is now something that all of agriculture is dealing with. So, we don't always know what that means to consumers, but how are beef producers responding to what the consumers are saying about sustainability and how are you tackling that?

 

Collin Woodall:

Yeah, Jon, that is a huge issue. And I think we need to start out first off by just saying sustainability is not going away. It is a topic that is here to stay. It's a topic that we have to engage in, because as you said, the consumers are asking questions and the response, when you bring up the issue of sustainability among beef producers is rather interesting, even today, because we have a lot of producers who say, yes, this is an area where we need to take the lead.

 

Collin Woodall:

We need to be very clear in what we're doing and show the consumer that they can feel good about eating our product. We have some of our members who just kind of get mad about this discussion of sustainability and say, well, you're just talking about more room rules and regulations on how I run my operation. And then you get a few that because of the kind of uncertain nature of sustainability, you had mentioned, a lot of people aren't even sure necessarily how to define sustainability, their eyes kind of just gloss over and they say, okay, I'm going to hang out here until we talk about the next subject.

 

Collin Woodall:

You get all three of those responses. And what we are doing is trying to take a step forward and really focus on that first group and say, this is about showcasing the great work that we've already done as an industry, because cattle production today is not the same as it was five years ago, much less 50 years ago. And it is because of this commitment to continual improvement and continual improvement is how we have gotten better and how we will continue to get better.

 

Collin Woodall:

And when you talk about cattle producers, who, in some case cases where we have members that can trace their ranch's lineage back to Spanish land grants in California, or to land grants from king George in the original 13 colonies, if that's not sustainability, I don't know what is. But being able to take that story and put it in a way that the consumer really understands that when it comes to cattle production, we are all about clean air, clean water, healthy soils, good grass and the welfare of our animals. Because if we don't have any of that, we don't have an industry. We don't have anything that we can depend upon. And so taking the leadership role that we have and putting out some goals regarding sustainability is something we're excited about, because we can tell that story, I think in a much better way now.

 

Nicole Erceg:

Yeah. Collin, I think you captured the producer sentiment around it. There's some people that sustainability is the S word and there's other folks that embrace it as an opportunity. I think there is an opportunity here for us to further connect and deliver on our product to consumers. For us it's an investment in consumer trust. It's about delivering on what our consumers want and what they need. And I don't think anyone likes being told how to do their job. And that's why there's, I think, some hesitancy around it. And I don't think that's what consumers are asking is it not that they want to dictate what happens on the farmer ranch. It's just that they want to feel good about how their product was produced. And I think the great opportunity here is that we have a really good story to tell, it's just quantifying it.

 

Nicole Erceg:

And sometimes it's telling that story in a way that connects with our consumers is not going to look as complex or as data-centric as it is when we talk about it amongst ourselves. As I've looked at our role as a brand and helping tell this story, it's quantifying some of what the industry has already done, and we can market on it as an attribute for our product. So, I think there's opportunity here. It's just being able to capitalize on it and too, it's beginning to quantify some of the things that I don't want to say we haven't focused on, because when I talk to producers about it, if you add ask them about sustainability, it's just a part of their everyday lives, man.

 

Nicole Erceg:

It's just good business to take care of the grasslands. It's just good business to build good water resources. And a lot of those things turn into sequestering greenhouse gas emissions. So, it's just learning to think about these things a little bit differently, using some different language and vernacular of how we communicate about it. But I think there's a great story to tell here of what cattle ranchers are doing. And also what corn farmers are doing to put a great product that's been raised in a very responsible way in front of our consumers.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, I need to bring this a little closer to home and discuss the role of feed in meeting consumer needs. So, with that, Nicole, how important is sourcing sustainably produced feed to your side of the industry?

 

Nicole Erceg:

Yeah, so I think it's really interesting as you talk about the definition of sustainability and when you ask consumers what it means to them, you get all kinds of answers back. It can range from food waste or the number one thing we hear is animal welfare, it can be beef's impact on the environment. But one of the things that shows up in our research is what cattle eat. And so I think as we look at telling a sustainability story, being able to tell some of the story of where the food comes from that cattle eat is absolutely important to telling a holistic sustainability story.

 

Collin Woodall:

Yeah. From our perspective, I mean the corn industry is a lot like what we're doing here in the cattle industry. And that is looking at the way that we improve our product. We use the tools available as far as genetic improvements to make sure that that corn variety to today we know is nowhere near what it was 50 years ago or a 100 years ago. And that has been because of this commitment to continual improvement. We know there's a tremendous amount of research going on today for even more corn varieties that could do things such as helping reduce the methane emissions coming out of cattle.

 

Collin Woodall:

And so we know that that sustainable approach to corn production, whether that's the genes of the plant itself, whether it's all of the conservation practices that are put in towards management of the land, management of the fields, you guys are a key component. You have to be healthy, because we rely on you. If you are not healthy, if you are not sustainable, then all of a sudden that very important feed source that we rely on is gone. And that's why this discussion of sustainability has to be one that we are all engaged in. This can't be just sustainability of what's going on with that one bovine animal. It has to be the sustainability of everybody who's helping produce that bovine and you and your members, Jon, are a big, big component of that.

 

Jon Doggett:

Collin, you mentioned something a little bit ago about how much your industry has changed in the last five, 10 years. And Chris Edgington, who is our incoming president has said, and he's absolutely right. If you haven't been on a corn farm in the last five years, you haven't been on a corn farm. And I think that's the important thing that we all are discussing, not only this podcast, but all of the discussions we've had in the commodity world is don't look at snapshots, look at trends. And the trend is just so significantly good. And we need to celebrate that. Beyond that, what are some of the other expectations that you folks have of your feed suppliers like us? What else can we be doing to help you in your industry? And Nicole we'll start with you.

 

Nicole Erceg:

I think sustainability is a team sport. This is not something that we can tackle as individuals, as individual businesses, as even individual segments of the industry. I think collaboration and being at the table and being in each other's corner on some of this, because like Collin said, this is not about that individual bovine or that farm. As we look at the beef supply chain and putting a product on our consumer's plate that we can feel really good about how it got from gate to plate and that process and its impact on our environment. It starts on a corn farm somewhere. It's a complex process. And I think the more collaboration we have, I think it's only going to make us better and it's only going to make our stories stronger. And I think it's key for when you guys get better, we get better and vice versa. So, I think approaching sustainability as a team, as a collaborative effort, is key for this to continue to be an opportunity for our industry and not an issue. As I know that it feels sometimes.

 

Collin Woodall:

Jon, when you look at sustainability, there's that natural inclination to just worry about the environmental component of sustainability, but sustainability is so much more. We have to look at it from the sustainability of local communities. So, if your members aren't healthy, if my members aren't healthy, then those local communities aren't healthy. But really when you boil it down to sustainability, if we can't be profitable as agriculturalists, then nothing else really matters, because we won't have the operations there to do this work and to help us be sustainable. And I think that's where the relationship between the National Corn Growers Association and the National Cattleman's Beef Association has been, is, and will continue to be important in the work that we do together, especially in Washington DC, because we have to engage with lawmakers. We have to engage with the administration to protect ourselves and tell our stories.

 

Collin Woodall:

We're on the same team when it comes to things like tax policy and trying to push back anything that would eliminate the step up and basis, for example, or that would lower the exemption amounts for the estate tax, the death tax. That's something our teams are working together on, as we speak to make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect these family farms, these family operations. Things such as working to ensure the new WOTUS rule that's going to come back into play here with the new administration does not return us back to where we were with that original 2015 Obama rule.

 

Collin Woodall:

So, the relationship between our two organizations is much more substantial than just you producing the feed for our cattle. It's about that true interaction and cooperation, working to protect and defend ourselves from a lot of ill-conceived ideas when it comes to Congress and the white house, and that's regardless of administration or regardless of party, it's just about being one group, because we know that there's fewer few of us in agriculture working together to just be an advocate for what we do.

 

Jon Doggett:

Collin, you and I both ran our DC operations before we became CEOs of our respective organizations. And you and I have had this conversation dozens and dozens of times, because you've heard from your folks and I've heard from my folks, you need to work together. And I don't know if there's ever been a week that some of your folks aren't working with some of my folks on something that benefits our industries.

 

Collin Woodall:

You're exactly right. I was just talking to the head of my DC office this morning and he was mentioning some conversations that he had had with your team as well. And that just illustrates this continued interaction, coordination, cooperation that we see among our two groups in going out and protecting ourselves. Because we have to look at where are our strengths and weaknesses. We know that we're going to look at Illinois. There's going to be some districts in Illinois where you as the corn growers are going to have many more people on out that can engage with a member of Congress that we will on the cattle side. But when we go to west Texas, that may be a much different thing. And so making sure that we could really leverage each other's strengths and our influence is key to making sure that we have those votes.

 

Collin Woodall:

And again, votes among Republicans and Democrats alike to step up and protect what's going on in family farms and ranches. This issue of sustainability is one that's very important to president Biden. He's talked a lot about climate change sustainability, but when we go back and we look at this tax discussion that's going on, there are some proposals out there that we know will result in farms and ranches being split up or sold. And in the world today, especially with every other farmer and rancher being under that same tax liability, being able to transfer that to somebody else in agriculture, probably a slim chance of that. It's going to go to a developer. It's going to go somebody who's just going to have some hunting assets and not necessarily have production to agriculture. So, that's very counter to what the president is trying to achieve. He needs green space and your members, my members, all of us in agriculture provide that green space. And that coordination that we have between our organizations, Jon, is what's going to really help us protect our membership.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, thank you so much National Cattlemen's Beef Association, CEO, Collin Woodall and Nicole Erceg, Certified Angus Beef's communication director. This has been a wonderful discussion and I've certainly enjoyed it. And as a Montana ranch kid whose family still produces beef, including Angus beef. This has been fun and we work so well together on so many things and we just are delighted to have you as part of our podcast today. And so with that, again, thank you. And I'm Jon Doggett, I'm the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. You've been listening to Wherever Jon May Roam, a podcast from the National Corn Growers Association. Thank you for tuning in.

 

Dusty Weis:

That is going to wrap up this edition of Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. New episodes arrive monthly. So, make sure you subscribe in your favorite app and join us again soon. Visit ncga.com to learn more or sign up for the association's email newsletter. Wherever Jon May Roam is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association with editing by Larry Kilgore III. And it's produced by PodCamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses, PodCampMedia.com. For the National Corn Growers Association, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

 

 

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