By Brittni Drennan, IBBA Communications Coordinator
Most involved in the cattle industry are aware of a potential threat that began creeping up in the minds of producers across the nation and is gaining speed as it quickly approaches. The question lingering among farmers and producers is, “Who is going to lead the future of agriculture”?
While many producers are ready to hand down the reins of their operations, there are fewer young people willing to take over. However, that does not mean there are not still some out there willing to jump in and give it a try.
Brody Wallis grew up in Atoka located in southeastern Oklahoma and was always drawn to the agriculture industry. He was raised on his family’s small ranch in which a commercial cow-calf operation was in place to manage the property as well as keep family ties to the cattle industry. He then began taking more of an interest in the cattle operation as he was exposed to agriculture through 4-H and showing cattle throughout high school in FFA. He especially enjoyed visiting relatives on larger cattle operations in north Texas where he was able to watch and learn how large-scale commercial cattle ranches operated.
Wallis started college at Oklahoma State University with the intent of practicing large animal veterinary medicine. He later decided that he wanted to be in the beef industry in another capacity. He changed his Animal Science option from pre-vet to business and began taking classes in economics and range management to gain knowledge that would prepare him for a future in the cattle industry. His formal education helped Wallis form the basis for a small herd of cows on his family ranch.
“As a long-term goal, I want to be a producer who can make a positive impact in the industry,” Wallis said. “With an aging industry and aging producers, there are going to be more opportunities for young producers to introduce new ideas and perspectives to advance and grow the industry all while maintaining the values and beliefs that leaders ahead of us instilled.”
Wallis grew up around commercial cow-calf operations, but when he went to college one of his goal was to diversify himself within the beef industry. He worked for the OSU purebred cattle operation while obtaining his bachelor’s degree as well as worked for a year in the OSU meat laboratory on the campus in Stillwater. To gain valuable experience in the cattle feeding industry he worked as an intern for JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding LLC in Hartley, Texas. Wallis is now about to complete his master’s degree at OSU in animal science specializing in ruminant nutrition while doing his research in grazing stocker cattle and subsequent feedyard performance.
“As young people in the industry, we can bring advanced technologies and higher education back to introduce to the operation,” Wallis said. “And with my background and the mentors I’ve had, I want to provide quality genetics to commercial producers whether it’s Brangus bulls and females or crossbred females.
Wallis bought his first registered Brangus cows a few years ago and now has a small herd on which to build a good, solid foundation of quality genetics. He said his fascination with the breed began at an early age, and as he began to learn more about the industry, he realized the true value of Brangus cattle. Combining the most desirable traits from both Bos Indicus and Continental breeds, Brangus cattle are most well known for their ability to adapt to a variety of climates and the harshest environments. From personal experience, Wallis said he credits them for their mothering ability, longevity and parasite resistance. Brangus cattle also maintain good efficiency in the feedyard and high cutability with the ability to meet Certified Angus Beef (CAB) qualification standards.
Wallis attributes Tinker Ray, also from Atoka, for guidance and assistance in getting started. Upon graduating from OSU, Ray and his brothers built their Brangus program, Ray Brothers Brangus, and introduced new blood lines into the breed. Wallis said Ray was a big proponent of gain tests and helped establish OSU’s bull test station. Operating since 1973, Oklahoma Beef, Inc. is now the second largest test station in the U.S.
Influenced by Ray, his professors and the research he conducted in graduate school, Wallis focuses on performance data and believes EPDs are beneficial in making breeding selections and assist in making purchasing decisions, but he stresses that selecting animals based upon EPDs requires in-depth research on how each EPD will influence a particular herd rather than simply selecting high numbered bulls. He supports breed associations in advancing work to develop genomically enhanced EPDs that will allow producers to select economically important traits based on proven data. Wallis said he believes, as a seedstock producer, his role is to record accurate numbers that improve the breed and maintain the integrity of the breed association.
“You can’t deny their value based on hard data that have proven these numbers as well as developed other genetic selection measurements and indexes beyond simple measures of birth weight and weaning weight, for example,” Wallis said. “The industry outside of your own backyard is progressing so quickly and more customers are realizing the value of these technologies.”
At his own operation, Wallis applies artificial insemination (AI) techniques to be more efficient and better utilize his resources. Using AI with high quality genetics and a clean up bull with good progeny makes more sense to Wallis on his small herd operation, especially when trying to build a foundation for quality registered Brangus cattle.
“AI is my best option because it gives me more flexibility,” Wallis said, “and as commercial producers are becoming more educated, seedstock producers need to be on the forefront of implementing technologies in order to meet their customers’ growing needs if they ever want to grow their market.”
Together, these technologies work to make Wallis’ operation more efficient and help reduce input costs, which has been a growing concern, especially during the relentless drought that has swept the nation the last two years.
“I would like to think that we’re talking about moderation of cow size, maybe moderation of milk production to reduce input costs,” Wallis said. “I feel like the Brangus cow will always be valuable to the industry, but at some point it will come down to reducing input costs.”
Wallis said at his operation he places emphasis on his customers’ needs and strives to provide them with the most data and information possible when making purchasing decisions. As commercial producers begin to cautiously rebuild, Wallis believes they will be more selective and will pay closer attention to genetics, and Brangus producers will have a great opportunity to supply their needs if they have the data their customers will be seeking.
“It will be important for seedstock producers to convey the genetic value and pedigree to commercial producers,” Wallis said, “and because commercial producers will be conservatively growing cow herd size, they will be more interested in the background and quality of the product they’ll be receiving.”
A recent technology, perhaps more useful as a marketing tool, has the industry buzzing. Every day more and more people are realizing the value of online communication and are experimenting with social media as a means to market a product to a larger, more diverse audience. Wallis says he realizes the benefits of using social media and has seen studies that prove more people, especially in the older generations, are using it more than what he initially perceived. One of the greatest advantages of social media, he said, is the ability to reach a mass audience very quickly while building a brand and developing trust when establishing relationships.
“To be successful, it takes balancing old techniques while implementing new technologies,” Wallis said. “By the time printed publications reach your mailbox, they are already last week’s news to the people receiving the same publications electronically, which can be detrimental to producers making business decisions based upon these materials.”
Print media is becoming less common, and the public is relying on online sources for information and news. As the public becomes more disconnected with agriculture, it is becoming increasingly more important for agriculturalists to utilize the resources available to educate consumers about the industry. The (delete) cattle exposure Wallis had when he was young was enough to spark his interest in learning more about the industry that eventually led him to his career choice. Now Wallis has some suggestions on how to combat a growing obstacle threatening the future of the agriculture industry.
“I believe that we, as agriculturalists, must take an interest in young people and get them onto our farms and ranches to observe what we do on a daily basis,” Wallis said. “As a science and natural resources based field, we can easily tie our operations into valuable lesson plans.”
Speaking from experience, Wallis thinks even the most minimal exposure will be enough to pique the interest of a student and encourage them to seek a career in agriculture.
“A solution to get younger producers into agriculture is not going to present itself in a way that masses of young people will enter agricultural industries,” Wallis said. “Rather, it is going to be the one or two youngsters that were impacted by agriculture or someone in agriculture in such a way that they develop a passion for an industry, much like I have with the beef industry.”