Bob McCan named president of National Cattlemen's Beef Association
By Burt Rutherford
Feb. 7, 2014 at 7:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 6, 2014 at 8:07 p.m.
This story was published in Beef Magazine on Jan. 16.
When Bob McCan, incoming president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, was just a kid, one of his yearly highlights was helping his father and grandfather ship cattle from the railroad pens behind the small town of McFaddin. Nobody then could possibly imagine how much the industry would change in the 50 years hence.
In fact, with a few exceptions, things were pretty much the same since McCan's great-great-grandfather bought the South Texas ranch in 1877 with money made from financing the storied trail drives north to Kansas. But even in young Bob McCan's time, the exceptions foretold of changes to come; the cattle were a Hereford-Brahman cross known as the Victoria Braford - the result of a planned, systematic crossbreeding system his grandfather put in place when planned crossbreeding was not a ranch-house word.
"I feel pretty fortunate to get just a little of that history, being a part of it when I was a child," McCan said. "It was pretty spectacular for me to be able to see that and then watch where we've progressed."
He's seen change happen in his own operation and McFaddin Enterprises now includes two family-owned ranches and a third leased operation. The combined acreage supports 3,000-5,000 Braford cows, depending on Mother Nature. And he's seen changes happen in the industry: from the handwritten tally sheets of railcar counts to the computers and smartphones that are his constant companions today.
It's the juxtaposition of that change and challenge, history and the future that provides the base from which the fifth-generation cow-calf producer will lead the industry in 2014 as NCBA president.
An advocate for advocacy
Beef industry advocacy is not new to McCan. Both his great-uncle and grandfather served as president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, as did he; his father was also active in the organization.
"Our family has been active in advocacy groups for cattlemen for a long time," he said. "So I grew up in that environment."
That early exposure to those who understood the important role that associations play in ranch life left an imprint.
"Those guys, the leaders of our industry, they were my icons, my idols; they were my mentors," he says. "So it just naturally sent me in the direction of preparing myself to be part of the advocacy for our industry, to give back to our industry."
It was through the leadership ranks of TSCRA that McCan spent many years honing his leadership skills. Those skills will be crucial in the coming year as NCBA works to better represent all participants and all segments of the beef industry, said Matt Brockman, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock.
Brockman said the rancher has a realistic vision for NCBA and how it can benefit the beef industry.
"Bob has always found a way to effectively communicate with the diverse mindsets and cultures within the cattle business," Brockman said. "If the industry is ready to come together and truly address critical issues, Bob is a man who can get the sides together and find common ground."
All for one and one for all
One challenge where McCan sees a lot of opportunity is a growing acknowledgement among producers regarding the importance of industry unity. Industry organizations have come through a difficult and divisive time, he said, "But I think people are realizing that unity is extremely, extremely important for this industry right now."
Another part of McCan's passion for the industry is the need to help young producers get started in the industry, and get them involved in industry organizations early on. That will benefit the industry in many ways, he said.
NCBA already has risen to the challenge.
"We have a Young Producers' Council, we have the Masters of Beef Advocacy program, we have the Young Cattlemen's Conference trip and a lot of different activities for our younger members," he said. "I think that's going to help us develop a good core group of young leaders who are going to be able to transmit the messages about our industry better than some of the old guard can."
That's important, he said, because he views younger producers as the most important group within the industry - for several reasons.
"We've got a lot of producers in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and they're very capable folks. And I think they have a very good feel for what needs to be done as far as changes to improve the industry" he said. "They are the key influencers we have in the industry, and we've got to make sure they are part of everything we do."
The industry going forward
One thing McCan is sure about, as he peers into the industry's future, is that activist groups will only become more strident, more sophisticated and more outspoken. How, he wonders, will producers find the resources to respond?
"There are so many things coming at us so fast, not only from activists groups but with changing consumer sentiment," he said. "We desperately need additional resources to combat a lot of things that are coming... ."
Those additional resources can come from several places. One is the industry's ability to squeeze every bit of good from every checkoff dollar. There, both NCBA and the Cattlemen's Beef Board have made some hard and difficult decisions. NCBA leaders responded by reducing staff and asking the organization to operate more tightly and efficiently. It was a hard decision, he says, but adds that he thinks "it was the responsible thing for NCBA to do."
But belt-tightening only gets you so far.
"We're committed to enhancing the checkoff," he says of NCBA's leadership team. "Going forward, I just don't see how we're going to be able to do the things we need to do to promote our product, and do the research and innovation we need without additional resources," he said.
Burt Rutherford is the senior editor of BEEF Magazine.