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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
THE 'BOB' CHALLENGE: REWARDING PRODUCERS FOR QUALITY CATTLE
When you produce a monthly column entitled, "Thinking Outside the Box," sometimes you have to write outside the box. This is the case with this column. Usually I try to analyze and enlighten readers about a completed ag public relations or promotional program. This time I'm writing about a program that's just getting off the ground and won't be completed until next January!

This is about BOB. Not your friend Bob. Not Bank One Ballpark, home of the world champion Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, and affectionately known as BOB. Not the myriads of radio stations across the country that now call themselves BOB (mostly country formats by the way).

BOB is the "Best of the Breed" national Angus carcass challenge, which will reward "superior carcass genetics." The winners will be determined by the highest beef value on a Farmland National Beef (FNB) special contest grid. The cattle will be raised in a quality-controlled, process-verified system.

The contest kicked off last summer with a news conference
at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) annual summer meeting. Its sponsors include Agri Beef Co., Allflex USA, Certified Angus Beef LLC, Farmland National Beef and Merial.

And let me tell you something: The winning feedlot or producer will get more than a plaque, a handshake and a lifetime supply of Burger King Whoppers! In fact, come to think about it, the winner won't receive any Whoppers. But the winner will receive $100,000 in cash (second place gets $50,000, third gets $25,000). And, if the winning set of cattle is MERIAL SUREHEALTH certified, the company will throw in another $100,000. Wow, that's the equivalent of about 40,000 Whoppers!

I'm intrigued by the scope of this program and how its leaders plan to promote and publicize it. My plan is to take a look at BOB next year around this time and see if it meets the organization's goals. And with a total of a third of a million dollars in prize money available, I get the feeling this program will get the interest of a lot of cattlemen.

"We've had lots of articles about the program already in major publications," says Amy Fahsholtz, director of BOB. She runs the contest from the Agri Beef Co. offices in Boise, Idaho. "And we've received lots of calls at our toll free number - 866-BOB-1160. Many people are interested in competing and they want to do it right."

The news conference at the summer NCBA meeting was attended by the major beef publications. Lori Hallowell, account supervisor for Bader Rutter & Associates, Inc., Lincoln, Neb., office (the agency has Merial as a client), says coverage from the media event "was fantastic."

Hallowell says many media members have commented to her that this program "is one of the neatest concepts seen in the beef industry for quite a while. This rewards a producer who produces quality beef, which is an industry trend and certainly meets the need of consumers. Our industry needs to position itself as consumer driven."

There are additional incentives for cattle producers to enter, beyond Merial's plan to reward a SUREHEALTH user an extra $100,000. Certified Angus Beef (CAB) has added a $10,000 incentive if the cattle are fed in CAB-licensed yards. One feed yard, Irsik and Doll, has a cash incentive plan in development and Brookover Cattle Co. will pay the enrollment fee for anyone who works with that group.

"Everyone who enters this contest and feeds at a CAB feedlot will be a winner," says CAB Feeder-Packer Relations Director John Stika. "That's because they will capture carcass data along with their quest for cash, and that will help put more dollars in their pockets down the road."

COMPETITION

"This contest is the first of its kind," Fahsholtz says. "It's a way to really reward producers for producing quality cattle. This is a big chunk of money and lots of people are talking about it."

Fahsholtz says the seed for the idea came from folks at Agri Beef Co. Owner and Chairman Rob Rebholtz suggested the contest to Kevin Hughes, president of Agri Beef Risk Management Co. CAB is an official supplier to the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and the Agri Beef feed yards are CAB-licensed.

"With the Olympics in the west this year (as you read this the competitions are already underway), cattle leaders wanted to create a unique contest to provide some visibility for the cattle industry."

Nalini Saligram, director of corporate communications for Merial, calls the program "a sweeping, bold step to improve the overall quality of beef in the U.S." She says Merial sees this as a nice fit, with its philosophy of "improving the quality of beef Americans put on the table. A core business strategy of Merial is to support the North American ag industry."

The SUREHEALTH program was introduced in 2001. Saligram says it dovetails nicely with BOB. "BOB is a serious attempt to improve inherent traits of the Angus breed," she explains. "And having just launched SUREHEALTH, this is a chance for us to increase the adoption of the program among producers. Furthermore, this allows us to contribute to raising the bar in terms of producing quality beef and to enhance our corporate reputation. We like the prestige from being associated with an innovative industry-wide initiative - the BOB Challenge."

Richard Jenkins, associate director, integrated beef systems for Merial, adds that the company sees BOB as a tool to continue its emphasis on being positioned as a leader in the industry. The attending public relations and promotional value from being attached to the BOB Challenge is "just what we're looking for," he says.

SUREHEALTH is a preconditioning program for calves that includes vaccination, deworming, dehorning, castration, adjustment to feedbunk and water tank, and a holding period on the ranch after weaning. Feedyards are beginning to recognize that calves preconditioned on the ranch have fewer health problems after they leave it. This fits in nicely with the BOB Challenge.

"The emphasis on quality beef ties directly with what we're trying to accomplish with SUREHEALTH," Jenkins says. "Nothing of this magnitude, with the scope or breadth of BOB, has ever been attempted. We're just not gathering carcass data. This is a way for us to partner with our customers. If they aren't in business, we aren't either. We want to be involved in this program."

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Jenkins already has an anecdote that he believes shows BOB is on the right track. "I got a request from a writer for a major publication wanting some leads from us on cattlemen interested in BOB," Jenkins explains. "I sent a voicemail to our field representatives asking for some leads. I probably got 15 or more responses immediately from them saying they knew producers who planned on having cattle enrolled in BOB. I was astonished how much excitement has been generated already for the program."

Fahsholtz, who was raised on commercial ranches in Nevada and Oregon, and spent four years working with the Idaho Cattle Association, says talk among cattle producers and the media covering the industry has been terrific. "I was at a cattle meeting in Kansas in November and it was great to see how many people were talking about the program," she says. "The biggest thing we want to accomplish is to create a fun environment where quality genetics are rewarded. That will bring us favorable publicity and put our industry in a good light. That's what this is all about." AM

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.


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