More than 2,000 ranchers and agriculture professionals from across the United States and at least six other countries gathered in College Station this week for the annual Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course.
The four-day event featured large group general session lectures and conversations, breakout seminars and live demonstrations of a variety of skills and trades, including cattle handling and beef carcass value determinations.
The short course at A&M dates back to the early 1940s and is today the largest gathering of its kind in the country. The event also included a trade show, a reflection on Hurricane Harvey's impact on the industry and a two-part introduction to producing cattle. The short course is hosted by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the department of animal science.
"It's one of the signature educational events of the year, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It's certainly one where Texas A&M is on stage," AgriLife spokesman Blair Fannin said.
Short course coordinator Jason Cleere said that while the majority of attendees were Texans, ranchers from Oklahoma, Arkansas and as far away as Rhode Island also made the trip. Cleere, an AgriLife beef cattle specialist, just finished his 14th year as the event's lead planner.
"People come to the short course first and foremost for the education and sessions, and then the trade show and the meals help add atmosphere and fellowship for the event," Cleere said.
Cleere explained that he and other specialists planned the dozens of workshop sessions after consulting with a variety of agriculture professionals in and outside of Texas. He said a landowner legal rights session by AgriLife Extension legal specialist Tiffany Dowell Lashmet was among the most popular breakout panels. Lashmet guided attendees with advice and information regarding liability, leasing property to guests and on-property accidents, according to Cleere.
Cleere and Fannin said the Texas Aggie Prime Rib Dinner -- at which "we fed over 1,800 people in 40 minutes," according to Cleese -- was another highlight. Fannin also lifted up the "tremendous spillover" economic impact of the thousands of attendees spending money on lodging and food in Bryan-College Station.
Cleere said he hopes people understand that ranchers are businessmen and businesswomen who "are making business decisions every day." He said sees the short course as a vital yearly way to assist ranchers in their work, which culminates in providing food to the public.
Fannin said the event also serves as a way for "Texas cattlemen and women to network, share their day-to-day activities and learn from each other." Most of the events were on campus in the Memorial Student Center or Rudder Tower, with the Wednesday demonstrations hosted by a number of department sites.
The event's general sessions were spaces for industry experts to weigh in on large-scale issues. On Monday, Randy Blach, chief executive officer of the Denver area-based beef industry data collector CattleFax, said he was "optimistic" about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Blach and other industry experts talked at length about the beef industry's short- and long-term prospects both in the U.S. and abroad.
"I believe we're going to get resolution on NAFTA in a year or two," Blach said Monday. "... I'm optimistic that we'll get some of these [trade disputes] worked out yet this calendar year as we go down the road," he said of the 24-year-old trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
"We will have record meat consumption in 2019 in the U.S.," Blach said. "Never in our history have we consumed more red meat, pork and poultry than we are now. People are eating livestock protein."
Blach said the U.S. exports 17 billion pounds of beef worth $18 billion. "That's $365 in value of the calf you are producing," he said. "We've really got to keep an eye on these trade situations."
Cleere and Kelley Sullivan, co-owner of Santa Rosa Ranch in Navasota and Crockett, discussed China markets and their potential after being part of recent visits to China and Japan. Cleere and Sullivan are on the Texas Beef Council board of directors and traveled to learn more about opportunities in trade and share educational programming with representatives in those countries.
Sullivan touted the value of undesirable beef carcass parts in U.S. that are in great demand in Japan and other parts of the world.
"About $165 to $170 of the check you get from the sale of a calf comes from that export market," Sullivan said. "Where that's coming from are the parts we don't like, such as beef tongue. In the U.S. we pay $1 a pound, in Japan, $6 a pound. Beef intestine, in the U.S. there's zero value, but it's $1.50 a pound in Japan. It's critical to have those export markets."
Cleere said the planning group was already working on next year's short course, which will again be in College Station on Aug. 5-7, 2019.
"For me, it's always exciting to see people all over the state and country come together. ... AgriLife Extension puts on a great program," he said.
Donnell Brown of RA Brown Ranch in Throckmorton said at the event, "What I love about the short course is we learn so many things about specific areas from cattle marketing, to ranch management, grass management, better care for our cattle and genetic improvement. ... And best of all, you see so many good people -- another record crowd this year. It's always good to be together again with cattlemen from all over the country."