Mark Harms of Lincolnville and Tracy Brunner of Ramona are friends, and both play leading roles in the cattle industry.
Brunner was elected last week as the vice president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Harms recently completed a one-year term as the president of the Kansas Livestock Association. KLA is an affiliate of NCBA.
Brunner was the KLA president in 2008. He encouraged Harms to become actively involved in the cattle industry. Harms was busy managing a cow herd and raising registered bulls, but Brunner convinced him of the need to be involved.
“Producing cattle is labor intensive and it’s easy to not get involved in the issues affecting the industry or to communicate with other people about them,” Harms said. “It’s important to play an active role.”
He said it was an honor to be elected as KLA president.
“More than that, it was a great opportunity to connect with other livestock producers and to represent them,” he said.
When the media was looking for information about the cattle industry, Harms was one of those they contacted. He was interviewed at various times by the Wall Street Journal, The Wichita Eagle, and many other media outlets.
As “immediate past president,” Harms is still considered an officer in the KLA, along with the president and president-elect. All three positions are filled by volunteers.
The organization is made up of more than 5,000 cow-calf producers, calf feeders, and meat packers.
Staff members often appear at hearings before state legislative committees to give input concerning proposed legislation that could affect cattle producers. They also mingle with legislators to ascertain issues that may arise that are pertinent to the industry.
Harms and the other officers receive feedback from the staff, which guides them in setting policy initiatives for the organization.
As vice president of NCBA, Brunner hopes cattlemen will approve a higher check-off fee as a way to build demand when beef supplies start to grow. The check-off is collected whenever cattle are sold and is used to promote beef to consumers.
Brunner said consumer demand in the U.S. has increased slightly each of the past two years after a dip in consumption when the recession hit in 2008. He said domestic beef consumption in 2013 surpassed consumption in 2007.
He also said demand for exports is “growing and insatiable” as people in other countries become more prosperous.
His organization hires lobbyists to tell the beef industry’s story to Congress and provide input on proposed or impending legislation. They also are in touch with administrative agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Without us, cattle producers would have no representation in Washington,” he said. “We have to be there at every turn.”
As a feedlot operator who buys calves, Brunner said the number of feeder calves available is down 5 percent from a year ago. He expects cow herds to gradually increase if weather conditions continue to improve.
“Consumers love our product, and it’s our responsibility to produce a high-quality product,” Harms said of cattle producers. “We have to make sure they have a good eating experience every time they eat beef. That’s what will keep them coming back.”
He expects the industry to see a slight increase in herd numbers this year if grazing conditions improve and cattlemen retain heifers.