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Kirkbride provides overview of topics covered at USMEF conference in Texas

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Ex-Officio Wyoming Beef Council (WBC) member Jon Kirkbride spoke at the WBC conference call on June 2 after attending the United Stated Meat Export Federation (USMEF) conference in San Antonio in May.

Kirkbride reviewed topics that were covered at the two-day meeting.

Inside USMEF

“USMEF is pretty efficient. They get a lot done, and there are some really sharp people there,” Kirkbride commented about the experience.

The conference consisted of various speakers, panel discussions and committee meetings.

“The first speaker is always the chairman of USMEF, and in this case, it was Leann Saunders,” he noted. “One thing she has done during her term is a membership survey.”

Survey results indicated that 77 percent of members are satisfied or very satisfied with the work that USMEF is doing.

Although it can be difficult to know how much success can be directly attributed to USMEF, Kirkbride said, “It is good to have that high of a satisfaction rating.”

Free trade agreements

Philip Seng, president and CEO of USMEF, was the next speaker at the conference, and he emphasized the importance of free trade agreements.

“There are roughly 156 free trade agreements currently going on in the world. A lot of our competitors are really picking up on the importance of these agreements,” commented Kirkbride.

Seng’s presentation emphasized export markets growing throughout the world.

“A lot of his remarks were very sobering,” Kirkbride said. “Our competitors are really stepping up.”

Market trends

Randy Blach from CattleFax also spoke at the conference and outlined the U.S. loss of market share in grains, especially in terms of corn and soybeans.

“Other countries are getting more adept at growing these crops. They are emulating the U.S., emulating our methods, our equipment and so-forth. Some of these countries are having great luck at increasing the grains they are growing,” Kirkbride explained.

Addressing the U.S. cowherd, Blach noted an incredible rate of expansion.

“He said this cowherd is surprising everyone by how quickly it is expanding and growing,” Kirkbride said.

Branded products

At a different USMEF session, a board of panelists discussed the importance of branded products in the global marketplace.

“They had some very salient points about the importance of branded products versus commodity products,” Kirkbride stated.

One takeaway from the discussion included capturing a greater value from the sum of the parts, or specific cuts of beef than the value of the whole, or full carcass.

“Branded products will really do that,” Kirkbride noted.

Other hot topics

Repeated themes throughout multiple sessions also included the importance of marketing to millennials and the significance on traceability, sustainability and animal welfare issues in the global market.

“Europeans are especially emphasizing how they can provide these things and the United States can’t,” Kirkbride commented. “Likewise, we are getting a lot of negative competition from private groups like Chipotle and Whole Foods, who are hurting us not just domestically but beyond.”

Luckily, data shows that millennials are interested in eating meat and are looking for protein in their diets.

“Andrew Brooks from Certified Hereford Beef said there are 80 million millennials we need to reach and that social media is by far the best way to do it,” Kirkbride added.

Caucus meeting

During committee meetings, Kirkbride attended the Feed, Grain and Oilseed Caucus meeting, which hosted a variety of speakers and covered multiple topics, including predicted increases in soybean and pork production, ongoing contract negotiations in the West Coast shipping situation and the new beef checkoff program in Texas.

“It is hurting the U.S. to not have Russia as a trade partner because they eat a lot of variety meats, but they are a very unreliable trade partner,” Kirkbride noted of world trade, also mentioning that China currently has the largest import market in the world.

Positive aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and low capacities at U.S. packing plants were also discussed in the committee meeting.

Kirkbride concluded his experience, saying, “I could not help but come away from the USMEF conference with a sense of extreme importance of the export market, an extreme importance of supporting USMEF and an extreme importance of working on our weaknesses because the whole situation is a global economy now.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at

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