I am a third-generation rancher.
I do not say this because it makes me better or worse than anyone else. This is simply part of my identity. It is part of my heritage, and the fact that for 52 years my family has run cows on the same patch of ground in southern Arkansas is something of which I am incredibly proud. I love telling people the story of how 52 years ago my grandfather leveraged his work ethic on piece of property and through his sheer stubborn will and amazing ingenuity we are still here five decades later figuring out how to make it work.
I love telling my story of being the third generation to ranch here because it connects me back to the family I love and how we share a collective set of roots and experiences.
But I have been told recently because I am third generation, I had everything given to me and I am not self-made. I have been told recently because we haven’t been in business for 100 years that we aren’t storied legacies like that of western cattlemen. I have been told that because we run more than 40, we don’t understand the struggle of small farmers. I have been told that because I don’t run 1,000, I am a statistically irrelevant producer who the industry subsidizes. I have been told that because I am partnered with my brothers, I don’t understand the struggle of going at it on my own merits. That because I have a corporate job, I am a hobbyist. I have been told I am a ‘silver spoon’ who has never had to do the dirty work.
I have rarely been subjected to more outright brutality in my lifetime, as I have experienced in the last eight weeks since my Tomi Lahren rant went viral.
The cruelty has not come from animal rights activist or extremist propaganda. The snide comments and arrogance and belittlement has come from within the animal agricultural community. From the very community of which I have given my life to, from the community that I have historically been so proud to belong within. The community that for me symbolized the best of core American values like work ethic, entrepreneurship, conservative values and an independent stubborn will.
I have always been proud to watch cattle graze on green pastures in the spring and nothing beats the excitement of new babies in the fall. I have always felt at home in a barn or the cab of a dirty farm truck that smells like coppertox and oil and dirt.
Until the last 60 days.
I spoke out against a political pundit that was using food safety and failed legislation to call consumer confidence in the beef value chain into question, and I have been punished. I have been mocked. I have been called ugly and ignorant. I have had vile things spread about me online from overt sexualized commentary about my appearance to having someone post on my page that I engaged in sexual congress with a former president. I have been called a corporate shill. I have been accused of a number of offenses and had my words twisted and carved into outright lies. I have had threats of violence against me and I have had people contact organizations that I work for asking for me to be fired or punished. I have had conspiracy theories about being packer funded or a plant by an NGO.
Because I dared speak out against a political pundit? Because I dared question a producer group on their use of economic data? Because I questioned undermining consumer confidence in OUR products to promote a political agenda?
Here is a fact for you: I want to see us all make it.
Whether you have 4 acres or 40,000. Whether you have 12 cows or 1,200 or 12,000 on feed.
I know my farm is different from my neighbors. My neighbor doesn’t run cows the same way the guys in south Texas do. The Texans don’t do it like feeders in Nebraska. The corn huskers have a different model than the old ranches in Montana. And they do things totally different than the guys in central Florida or New York.
And that I believe that is just fine.
It takes all of us. It takes seedstock producers and cow-calf operators. It takes backgrounders. It takes feeders big and small. It takes large corporate packers and regional players and local processors. It takes organic and grass fed and local programs. It takes commercial cattlemen of all sizes. It takes mom and pop meat shops and it takes mega-retailers. It takes Certified Angus Beef and no-roll. It takes Wagyu carpaccio and ground beef tacos.
It takes all of us. Doing our part. Doing things, the way that work in our region, the way that works with our economics, the way that works with our time and land management.
This growing brand of ‘my way’ ranching and politics is a toxic powder keg with a short fuse. This self-important diatribe that says, “there is one way and if you are not like me than you are wrong” is dangerous and defeating. This brand of disillusionment is demoralizing to this industry. Where we are all perched on the dangerous ledge of consumer sentiment, this festering inter-industry drama digs a chasm between producers pitting us against each other. While we are all squabbling over the table scraps of production methodology, we lose sight of the forward-facing vision of the industry’s future and we continue to fall behind in consumer confidence.
This is not just a beef industry problem, this is a cultural problem within America. But the fact that is has hit here, in the industry I love and remain committed to and leveraged within, is concerning. Agriculture has long been prided as the centerpiece of American values. I see that eroding and I feel the sting of those implications personally. I have blood in my mouth from the hate and the punches that keep rolling in because I am unafraid to speak out against the growing wave of malcontent.
There is no legislation, no program, no producer group that can fix this. It is our ultimate responsibility as a shared industry to put down the hatchet. To stop the insanity and ask ourselves when did this cultural shift occur? When did it become wrong for someone to not ranch like me? When did we stop supporting each other as fellow producers?
And most importantly, how do we fix this?
The answer is not in more politics. The answer is not in membership revenues or checkoff programs.
The answer is in returning to the notion that we are people first.
Just because we do things differently, we still have common ground.
Our ranches may be different, but our hearts are probably the same.
We love the land. We love our cattle. But at some point, we stopped loving the people beside us in the industry.
If we are going to survive, we are going to have to bring that back.