Steak booms, pot roast a bust, says cattle industry spokesman |

Steak booms, pot roast a bust, says cattle industry spokesman

by Sheila Gardner

The media has given the beef industry a black eye, and it’s going to take more than a good steak to reduce the swelling.

That was the message delivered Monday to about 30 Carson Valley ranchers by Clark Willingham, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association at a luncheon at the J&T Restaurant in Gardnerville. Beef was on the menu and the minds of ranchers who’ve watched the industry lose its dominance to poultry.

“The steak business is booming,” said Willingham. “We own that market, but that’s only 25 percent of the carcass. We’re not doing so good on the other 75 percent.”

Poultry consumers are willing to pay extra for the convenience of such items as boneless, skinless chicken breast.

“We’re losing our market share,” he said. “Beef doesn’t taste as good as it used to. People go to a restaurant and get a good steak and want to know why they can’t have that same experience at the grocery store.”

What’s new in the beef product department?

How about a pot roast that you can microwave in seven minutes or a thick cut of prime rib that’s ready after two minutes in the microwave?

Those were top entries in a new products competition which netted the pot roast inventer $250,000.

– Bad publicity. Widely publicized reports of beef tainted by E. coli bacteria don’t help.

“Beef is news,” Willingham said, citing a national magazine’s cover story on “Can this steak kill you?”

Willingham said the article in the magazine was factual, but the cover hurt the industry.

“If something’s wrong with your hamburger, that’s news,” he said. “If it’s bean sprouts, who the hell cares?”

He also discussed talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s celebrated battle with the Texas beef industry.

“Oprah defamed everyone in this room. We came off as cowboys trying to squash free speech. No, we’re not. We’re for responsible speech. We just wanted her to tell both sides of the story,” Willingham said.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is the marketing organization and trade association for one million cattle farmers and ranchers in the United States. Willingham is traveling across Nevada to get input from members and discuss the state of affairs in the cattle industry.

He said the industry spends $14 million a year on advertising, adding, “McDonald’s spends that in a weekend.”

Willingham said cattle producers need to work together to maintain their share of the meat market.

One way to accomplish that is through the NCBA marketing program. Each cattle producer pays a $1 federal checkoff fee for every head of cattle sold. The money is spent for marketing, education and research.

“Fifty cents of that stays in Nevada and part goes to a national program. People on the dues side don’t spend checkoff dollars. It’s for research, motion and education. The dues dollars will help in Washington,” Willingham said.

– Grazing reform. He also urged the cattle operators to contact their Senate representatives to support the 1997 Forage Improvement Act. The measure is designed to reform the federal grazing program. Willingham predicted that if the measure isn’t passed soon by Senate, it will remain inactive for several years.

A Senate hearing on the measure is scheduled today.

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