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The Prairie Profile: Dave Duzan

Illinois Beef Association president and cattle feeder Dave Duzan talks May Beef Month, livestock opportunities and the next generation.

Betty Haynes

May 24, 2024

5 Min Read
Dave Duzan, Illinois Beef Association president, receives award from Josh St. Peters, IBA executive vice president
ILLINOIS BEEF: Dave Duzan, Illinois Beef Association president (left), is handed an award by Josh St. Peters, IBA executive vice president, recognizing the end of Duzan’s vice presidential term at the 2023 IBA annual meeting. “If you get something out of an industry, I believe you need to give some back,” Duzan says. Photos courtesy of Illinois Beef Association

At a Glance

  • Dave Duzan is a grain merchandiser turned cattle feeder turned Illinois Beef Association president.
  • Duzan says the biggest threats to the beef industry are preservation of equity and failure to engage young producers.
  • The Illinois Beef Association has several promotions planned to celebrate May Beef Month and summer grilling season.

“If you get something out of an industry, I believe you need to give some back,” says Dave Duzan of Lexington, Ill.

And that he has.

Duzan has always been a livestock man, growing up on his family’s hog farm in Lexington. His parents worked at Illinois State University, prompting Duzan to start his education there before transferring to the University of Illinois.

“I’ve always liked the business side of ag,” he says, explaining that ag economics was a sure fit for his skill set and interests. After graduation, he started a career in the grain industry.

A decade later, he was ready for a new challenge.

“In 1996, we bought 30 acres and decided to move home and buy a few purebred Angus cows,” Duzan says. “I was able to rent some pastures and build our herd up to about a hundred cows.”

He also founded Duzan Agency, specializing in live-animal import and export insurance, domestic transit insurance, animal mortality insurance, semen and embryo storage and shipping insurance, and quarantine coverage.

“I wanted to diversify income and felt there was a need there to do what no one else was doing,” he says.

Although the ground he purchased was ideal for grazing, seven years ago Duzan switched to a cattle backgrounding operation.

“We actually leased out our cow herd and started building some backgrounding lots,” he says. “It’s been a really great fit for our labor.”

Around this same time, Duzan was first approached to serve on the Illinois Beef Association board.

“To be honest with you, I think they were just looking for somebody,” he says, laughing. “I’ve met some of the greatest people, and truly enjoyed it.”

Dave Duzan, Illinois Beef Association president speaking to a bus full of people

Today, Duzan is president of IBA. He took some time from the IBA office to talk with Prairie Farmer.

What is the biggest threat to the beef industry in the next five to 10 years? I don’t think it’s going to be cultured meat, or plant-based meat or environmentalists. The biggest threat to our industry is preservation of equity and continuing to put our industry in a really good position to be profitable. Government overreach is something we’re keeping an eye on. Markets are markets — they’re going to be what they are. You can have a hand in determining your breakevens by using opportunities like futures, options and management tools like Livestock Risk Protection insurance.

And the biggest opportunities? Here in Illinois and in the Midwest, there is tremendous opportunity for finishing and backgrounding cattle. We have a huge cost advantage in feeds, we have an ample supply of feeder cattle between Illinois and surrounding states, and we’re a very good feedstuff-heavy area for cattle coming in from the Southeast.

We also have to nurture and educate young people who want to be in the cattle industry and make opportunities available to them.

How can young people get started in the beef industry? Get your foot in the door with an experienced cattle producer and learn from them. Unless it’s handed to you, you’re not going to start with a hundred-cow operation. You slowly build things up, take advantage of market opportunities and pencil things out. Because some things work, and some things just flat-out don’t. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and look to do 10 things 90% better instead of 90 things 10% better.

What has IBA planned for May Beef Month and summer grilling season? First of all, May is the beginning of grilling season. This is when we begin to see increased seasonal demand from consumers headed to their backyard barbecues with beef on the menu. It’s important for us to promote our product as a safe, wholesome, nutritious, center-of-the-plate protein. For May, we have launched the Beef Eaters Club to connect with consumers and restaurant-goers, and have a lot of outreach going on with grocery stores and retail beef promotions.

A woman handing Dave Duzan, Illinois Beef Association president, a ribbon award

What is your advice to future generations? If you have something that you’re passionate about and believe in, don’t ever give up. You’re going to get knocked down several times, but just keep getting up.

Whom do you most admire? On May 3, our industry lost a legendary producer in Jamie Willrett from DeKalb County, Ill. Jamie was well respected in our state and on a national level among beef producers and industry leaders. He spent a lot of time with me, and we both served on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association live cattle marketing committee. I always admired Jamie’s willingness to serve the industry and do something outside of his farming and cattle career.

What quality do you admire most in a person? Integrity.

What motivates you? That there might be a future generation to carry on what I’ve started, so to try to do better every day.

Favorite food at Illinois State Fair’s Ribeye Corral? There are a lot of great options — but I’ve always loved the ribeye sandwich. Our brisket is a close second, though!

Where is your favorite spot in the world? Anywhere with family.

How do you spend your free time? What free time?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Jamie Willrett told me, “The world is run by people who show up.”

What’s your guilty pleasure? Chocolate.

Best live performance? George Strait at University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.

What’s your go-to mantra for hard times? Have faith — tough times don’t last, tough people do.

If I listened to your Spotify playlist, who would be the artists you’ve most listened to? George Strait and Jake Hooker.

Dave Duzan, Illinois Beef Association president at a cattlemen networking event

Duzan in brief

Favorite tractor? John Deere
Truck? GMC
Livestock? The kind that makes money
Technology? Performance Beef
Team? Kansas State University Wildcats and University of Illinois Fighting Illini
Book? Bible
Best decision? Marrying my wife
Family? Wife Kelly and daughters Lindsey and Jessica

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About the Author(s)

Betty Haynes

Betty Haynes is the associate editor of Prairie Farmer. She grew up on a Menard County, Ill., farm and graduated from the University of Missouri. Most recently, Betty worked for the Illinois Beef Association, entirely managing and editing its publication.

She and her husband, Dan, raise corn, soybeans and cattle with her family near Oakford , Ill., and are parents to Clare.

Betty won the 2023 Andy Markwart Horizon Award, 2022 Emerging Writer, and received Master Writer designation from the Ag Communicators Network. She was also selected as a 2023 Young Leader by the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists.

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