OPINION — “Wow, I didn’t expect that!”  I have said that many times and have heard it said many times when something unexpected happened.  Unfortunately, those words are generally not heard when something good happens, rather it’s when that bull you finally got into the corral sailed over the top board, or when the first heifer calved a week before you thought they would start.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we expect things to go in life, and how those expectations have been tested since the advent of COVID-19.  I doubt that anybody expected to see the day when half of our country would be shut down because of a virus.  Or more unexpected yet, that when the country opened back up, some people would not want to go back to work when they had the opportunity.  We didn’t expect supply chain issues and delays.  We used to tease our parents and grandparents who lived through the depression and experienced the rationing of World War II for storing canned food and supplies in their pantry.  “You don’t need all this stuff,” we said, “all you have to do is go to the store when you run out.”

Little did we know, we would see the day when store shelves would be void of flour, canning lids, and toilet paper.  Even more shocking to us were empty meat cases.  We had plenty of fat cattle and plenty of consumers wanting to buy, but a reduced processing and transportation capacity to get meat in the stores.  We didn’t expect that.

We have become a nation that expects to be able to buy a new pickup when we want, get overnight delivery on baler parts, and a box of .22 shells when we run out.  While COVID-19 caused us to alter our expectations, I think we all expected for everything to be back to normal by now and as such, all of the goods and services to be readily available to us once again.  While we adjust to our “new normal,” maybe we are just going to have to change our expectations.

What else do we expect? Agriculture is an industry with historically high levels of risk.  With the advent of government disaster payments, crop insurance subsidies and economic stimulus payments we expect to be profitable every year.  We all understand the role weather plays in our profit margin, but have we become accustomed to being propped up if our revenue doesn’t meet our expectations?

What do we expect of the cattle market?  I expect an opportunity to market my cattle in a climate of free and fair trade.  I think the government’s role in that is to enforce the laws which ensure fair trade, and to actively seek out and enter into international trade agreements to expand our market.  I expect to be able to market my cattle in a way that offers me the best opportunity for a profit, and not be limited or mandated in the ways to do that.  There is both risk and reward in this industry, typically the greater the risk the greater the reward. If we continue to advocate for more government involvement and revenue protection to limit our risk, we will also limit our reward.  

What do we expect of each other?  I think it is reasonable to expect others to be honest and up front with us.  Too often we expect others to share our beliefs and values and paint them wrong if they don’t.  I fear we have lost the tolerance of opinions other than our own which is fueling the divisiveness in our country.  We forget that it is possible to separate someone’s position from their personality.  Just because we don’t agree with them doesn’t make them a bad person.

While there are issues that separate us, our expectation should be to work together with the other segments of our industry instead of against each other. We should be spending our energy developing value added markets, utilizing quality grids to capture the value of our genetics, and communicating with the consumer on the ways we benefit the environment and provide a high-quality protein product.  Some have labeled the current cattle market situation a crisis.  Is it a true crisis, or did it just not meet our expectations?

What do you expect from the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association?  As a member, I expect SDCA to look out for my agricultural interests and advocate for the policy the members created.  I expect the leadership and staff to efficiently and effectively carry out our mission. Working together we can meet all of our expectations for SDCA to be a strong leader in our industry and beyond.    

Eric Jennings is the president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.

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