First Timer’s Takeaways of CattleCon – The Past, Present and Future

By James Coope Contributing Editor 

Photo courtesy Lawrie Coope

Big. REALLY BIG. That was my first impression as a first timer to CattleCon 2023 last month in New Orleans. I had heard stories about it, but I was blown away by the size, spirit and energy of the crowd. As more than 7,000 beef industry enthusiasts took over the Big Easy, it was hard not to be caught up in the excitement of a big-time convention in a big-time convention town. What really struck me, however, was the celebration of the cattle industry’s past, present and future.

CattleCon – aka the Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show – kicked off on Sunday for some, but for me it all started Tuesday evening at the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame (CFHOF) Banquet and Awards presentation. Aside from eating the absolute best steak I’ve ever had at a banquet, the CFHOF presentations opened my eyes to the proud history of the business. We watched Terry Wegner receive the Arturo Armendariz Distinguished Service Award. Jerry Adams and the late Ed Barrett were both inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the legendary Dee Likes was honored with the Industry Leadership Award.

The stories from the Hall of Fame banquet not only highlighted the incredible accomplishments of these four men, but also helped me appreciate what has been done in the industry in a relatively short period of time. These men are pioneers, visionaries and leaders in the industry, and their contributions helped create the world we live in today.

The amazing thing is that, while we honor their contributions and legacies, the history of the cattle feeding business as we know it is only a generation or two old, and the majority of producers remain family owned and operated. With corporations and governments taking over so many other industries, that’s truly unique in the business world these days. We are fortunate to be able to celebrate these accomplishments with the individuals and families that created the opportunities we have today.

While the Hall of Fame banquet celebrated the past on Tuesday night, the present was on full display at the Convention Center on Wednesday morning. Talk about a lot going on! The trade show floor was buzzing with literally rows and rows of vendors. The trade show provides a great opportunity to connect with industry partners, old friends and, of course, new ones. There is a ton of business happening – in addition to the educational meetings and breakout sessions, the convention is an excellent time to connect with customers, build relationships and learn about what’s going on.

I was able to spend some time in the media center, and I was impressed by the number of interviews going on with journalists from all over the world. We’ve had enough isolation in our world over the past few years, so seeing people and catching up in person was a treat. The number of exhibitors and attendees at the trade show was impressive, and that bodes well for the health of the beef industry and the future.

Speaking of the future, one of the most impressive takeaways I had was the number of young and aspiring professionals entering the beef industry. As I toured the trade show floor, there were several booths sponsored by colleges and universities, and I got a chance to chat with some of them. The research and thought leadership coming out of these schools is truly impressive. At the Kansas State University booth, I met two women who told me about a couple of podcasts that they are producing and some of the content they share. Their energy, enthusiasm, and innovation was remarkable.

I later met a few Ph.D. students from the University of Georgia who stopped by our CALF News booth. They shared how much they enjoyed the convention, the people they were able to meet, and the many things they were learning during their time in New Orleans. Most industries have a hard time identifying future leaders, but I met a few at CattleCon that will do great things for the beef industry during their careers.

As a first-timer to CattleCon, I was truly impressed with how the beef industry puts on a show. More important, I got a taste of the rich history and legacy of the business, an even greater appreciation for the grit and tenacity of the producers and partners in the industry, and a refreshing look at the future and the energy that many young people have to make a difference.

On that note, we look forward to seeing you at CattleCon 2024 in Orlando!