Career Spotlight: Communications in the Beef Cattle Industry

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(Apologies for the audio problems in this episode)

Each year the beef industry produces billions of dollars in revenue for the United States, making cattle production one of the most important industries in the country. A large portion of the cattle accounted for are grain-fed in feed yards.

Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico are known as “Cattle Feeding Country,” serving as the largest cattle feeding region in American and annually marketing more than $6 million fed cattle — 28 percent of the nation’s fed cattle production. With such an enormous impact on the economy, it seem fitting that this sector of the cattle industry has an organization like the Texas Cattle Feeders Association promoting it through communications activities.

Promoting the beef

Carmen Fenton serves as the Texas Cattle Feeders Association Communications Director in Amarillo, Texas. As communications director, Carmen has the important task of making sure the press and the public understands what the purpose of a feed yard is and why they are so important to the food supply in the United States and abroad. She helps to manage the reputation of not only the Texas Cattle Feeders Association but also the fed beef industry as a whole.

One responsibility that Carmen deals with quite often in her job is communicating legislative and regulatory mandates to members and consumers. A recent example of that revolves around the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.

“We have a huge stake in the outcome of that,” Carmen said. “Being cattle feeders, we do a lot of trading. I think Mexico is the number one trading partner for Texas, so we have a very high interest in exactly how that plays out. As a communicator for an association that has a stake in a legislative issue, like NAFTA, it’s very important to rally our members, make them understand what is happening in Washington because it will eventually affect them directly.”

The Texas Cattle Feeders Association’s members are comprised of feed yard managers, feed yard owners, feeders — cattlemen who feed their cattle in a feed yard but do not own or operate it — and businessmen who have an interest in the cattle industry.

“These guys are who consistently provide us with a safe and affordable and healthy food supply,” Carmen said. “It’s pretty awesome to actually get to work with them everyday. It’s quite honorable what they do.”

Despite the dedication to what they do, farmers and ranchers often have false claims published about their work, making Carmen’s job a challenge at times.

“I think the biggest challenge for me and other communicators in agriculture, specifically the beef and pork and chicken industries, is getting through to consumers and making them feel super confident in the choices they make at the grocery store,” she said. “I think the challenge is consumers believe what they read, whether it’s true or not. They assume (what they read on) social media or a blog is correct. More than 50 percent of the time, it’s probably not. We as an industry are working to overcome that.”

Raising the beef

Carmen grew up in White Deer, Texas, a small town outside of Amarillo, on a cow-calf operation started by her great-grandparents. As a child, she had two dreams for her life — to either be a meteorologist or a communications director in the agriculture industry.

Upon high school graduation, she choose the agriculture route and went to Texas Tech University to study agricultural communications. During her last semester of college, Carmen had the opportunity to complete an internship for a member of congress in Washington, D.C. The experience is one she contributes to setting her up for her current job and career path.

“I went up there, did all the grunt work, was a typical intern, and ended up loving it,” she said. “I stayed for about five years (and) worked for two different members of Congress. By the time I left, I was the communications director for a member of Congress from the Austin area.”

Carmen believes her time in Washington D.C. allowed her to figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

“I just learned so much,” she said. “I learned how to put my head down and work hard and absorb everything I could. I really think that experience helped me get to where I am now.”

After five years in Washington D.C., Carmen moved to Austin to work for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Six years later, she moved back to Amarillo and began working in her current position with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association.

“I’ve been here almost a year,” she said. “I’m so glad to be here, working for some awesome members who take pride in producing a sustainable product that people enjoy.”

Feeding the beef

Finding your career niche in the agriculture industry can sometimes be difficult for those in the early years of their career.

“To those folks that are coming out of college, you are incredibly talented,” Carmen said. “You guys have what we need. We need you essentially to come fill the void that we’ve created. Be confident in that and understand that there is a need for what you do and what you offer.”

Here are two tips Carmen has for students before graduating college.

  1.     Join an association — If you have a passion for agriculture join an association that interests you. The knowledge you gain from the leaders in that industry in agriculture will be invaluable. It will benefit you for the rest of your life.
  2.     Complete an internship — Find an internship within an area of agriculture that you are passionate about. They will teach you things that you cannot learn anywhere else.

To learn more about the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, contact Carmen at  carmen@tcfa.org or follow the organization on social media:

Website: https://www.tcfa.org/

Twitter: @TXCattleFeeders https://twitter.com/TxCattleFeeders

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/texascattlefeedersassociation/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/texas_cattle_feeders/

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Alex Lowery
alexjlowery@gmail.com