BEEF PRODUCERS GO TO COLLEGE
by , Mike Opperman, Charleston|Orwig
Ongoing access to information and educational opportunities are important in helping beef producers stay in touch with new technologies and emerging issues. Being a source for this information is one of the focus areas for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) producer education programs.
The first Cattlemen's College was held in 1993. "That first college had just a few classes and several hundred participants," says Renee Lloyd, Director, Production Systems at NCBA. Today the Cattlemen's College is arguably one of the largest annually held beef producer education programs in the country.
THREE LEARNING TRACKS
Classes cover a wide variety of topics and participants choose from three tracks: production, marketing or resource management, to attend the concurrent sessions that best fit their needs. "This year we had 18 sessions and nearly 1,000 participants," Lloyd says.
The producer education efforts have now evolved from the annual Cattlemen's College to include the Cattle Learning Center. The center offers similar learning offerings, but emphasizes the opportunity to learn from the convenience of your home. Focusing on a variety of delivery methods, programs will be available online, on DVD, in print or they will be provided to extension specialists or other local educators for meetings and workshops.
Cattlemen's College surveys and a quantitative market research study are utilized to prioritize topics of interest to producers. Lloyd says, "After every session participants are asked to complete an evaluation of what they liked and disliked about the class, the speaker and future topics of interest. It's a great way to make sure we always meet producers' educational needs."
One of the most popular sessions at the 2007 college was "Management Strategies and the Bottom Line." Presented by university specialists from Texas A&M-Kingsville and Iowa State University, the session explored factors that impact the economic performance of beef operations.
Part of the discussion included the effects of ethanol on feed prices and the opportunities to offset high corn prices. It's this sort of timely information that attracts producers to the Cattlemen's College and the Cattle Learning Center.
Aside from the educational aspects of the Cattlemen's College, Lloyd says the producer interaction is possibly the greatest value. "Networking is one of the best benefits for producers who attend Cattlemen's College," Lloyd says.
EXTENDING ITS REACH
The Cattlemen's College has extended beyond the annual national convention as well. Individual states can apply to hold a college at their state conventions. NCBA helps support this effort, and will help coordinate speakers and topics as needed. "Our goal is to utilize these educational opportunities to reach out to cattle producers throughout the country," Lloyd says.
Initiated in 2005, the Cattle Learning Center (CLC) has just begun to tap the possibilities for educating beef producers. Learning opportunities available so far include:
• RFD-TV. CLC first participated in 2005 with four programs on the economics of beef production on the series The Cattle Show. Currently, CLC is featured as the educational backbone of NCBA's Cattlemen to Cattlemen weekly news program.
• Online educational courses — Two online interactive courses focusing on reproduction are the first of several modules to be developed aimed at educating producers. Producers can take the courses — "How Cows Get Pregnant" and "Economics of Reproductive Efficiency" — by going online, working through course information and then completing a quiz at the end of the module.
• A DVD titled "Low Stress Cattle Handling," featuring experts in horseback, dog and on-foot animal handling providing tips on how to handle cattle without causing additional stress. DVDs are available at www.
• National Cattlemen Producer Education Special Edition — Twice annually, special editions of the official publication of the NCBA are created.
• Co-sponsoring face-to-face meetings like the "Applied Reproductive Strategies for Beef Cattle" series.
A considerable amount of private industry support goes into making the Cattlemen's College successful. Pfizer Animal Health has been the primary sponsor since the beginning.
It's a safe bet that the past history of the Cattlemen's College will ensure a prosperous future for the producer education efforts. Lloyd says the Cattle Learning Center will become even more important as producers realize that convenience and opportunities are literally at their fingertips.
"We continue to explore opportunities to make producer education even more available for producers everywhere and to create a lifelong learning experience," Lloyd remarks.