Farm Progress

Illinois Beef Association President Mike Martz takes a look at changes in the beef industry.

November 9, 2016

5 Min Read

As I continue this role of president of the Illinois Beef Association, it has made me reflect on the cattle business and the changes I’ve personally experienced over the past half decade. My first experience in the cattle industry was showing as a kid. My folks were grain farmers and I had a love of livestock, so I was lucky to marry into a family that had cattle and encouraged my interest in that sector of agriculture.

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My wife, Lynn, and I married in 1979. I taught agriculture for two years in Pearl City before I began farming in Wisconsin, managing a cow-calf herd and cattle backgrounding operation that supplied some of the cattle for the Larson family operation feedlot in Maple Park. Lynn and I have been a part of the Larson Farms Partnership since 1980, joining Lynn’s parents, Ray and Carol Larson, and her two brothers, Norm and Dave Larson, and their wives, Barb and Robin. In 1988, Lynn and I made the move to Illinois so we could help more with the cattle operation on the main farm in Maple Park. We were very happy to welcome our son Justin and his wife, Jamie, into the partnership in 2011.

I feel lucky to have been exposed to all sectors of the beef business from start to finish, and there have been a number of positive changes mainly due to added emphasis on research and technology, addressing consumer concerns, cattle care and comfort, and the farmer investment in building beef demand through checkoff dollars. The changes that stick out to me the most are:

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• Advocacy. As an industry, we’ve put a lot of effort into listening to what the consumer wants, and it’s exciting because we’re making a lot of headway. At the end of the day, the consumer is who is buying our product and their opinion matters. I’ve seen firsthand what it takes to connect with those making food-purchasing decisions, and it’s very rewarding to know we’re building trust and confidence in farmers and farming practices. I credit our commodity checkoffs a lot for what we’ve accomplished in this area just over the last 30 years.

• Technology. Technology and research into being more profitable and productive producers has been huge since I’ve been involved with the cattle business. Farmers have so many tools and resources at their disposal to help them make sound breeding and marketing decisions. Whether it’s EPDs for cattle breeders or cattle feeders using ethanol byproducts, we’ve seen a lot of innovation in our industry, and we’re proud of the role Illinois’ land-grant university has played for the livestock industry in this area.

• Animal care. We’ve seen a big shift in how we house cattle. From a feedlot standpoint, in northern Illinois we had what we called cold barns that were closed up and allowed for little ventilation. Now, ventilation and housing are such that animal comfort is priority No. 1, and widespread use of rubber mats over slats demonstrates that elevated creature comfort goes hand in hand with increased efficiency on our farms.

• Environment. I’m very proud of what we’ve done to control manure and focus on the environment in the last several decades. The Livestock Management Facilities Act has made us all evaluate our practices and how they impact our neighbors and the environment. Our management of a waste product (manure) as a valuable soil amendment has definitely made us more sustainable as an industry for the long term. That’s a word that gets tossed around too much, but I really believe beef producers in Illinois are walking the walk on sustainability.

As a beef producer and leader in our state’s beef association, I’m thrilled with the progress we’ve made as an industry in the last five years. I think our beef checkoff and the volunteers serving our association get a lot of the credit for that progress.

Bigger picture, I think our industry has been lucky to have a lot of innovators over the years that had the guts to question the way they were operating. Every sector of the beef industry can share in that claim, too. The shift to boxed beef, the success of branded beef programs, the adoption of breeding and selection technologies at the cow-calf level, adherence to Beef Quality Assurance principles to make our product better for the consumer, and the migration away from and now back to the Midwest for livestock finishing have all been huge.

Taken in the aggregate, the beef business has seen vast changes since I’ve been involved, and the rate of change we’ll see in the future is probably even steeper. It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture, and the beef business, in particular.

Martz farms near DeKalb and is president of the Illinois Beef Association.

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