Speaking up for Beef: Joint effort extends knowledge of beef through state councils

Wisconsin State Farmer

Denver, CO — Nutrition professionals who provide advice to consumers are always on the lookout for credible and useful information about food. Thanks to a national beef checkoff-funded program being implemented by state beef councils, they’re finding welcome information about beef.

The objective of the program is to place credentialed nutrition speakers on the programs at state health and nutrition organization events. The speakers, who sometimes are researchers who have worked closely with the beef industry, can present on a wide range of topics, which can be tailored to the needs of each state organization.

The benefits of the program are numerous. First, placing these experts in the local markets delivers important and timely beef and nutrition information to health professionals who need it. It also helps state beef councils develop and strengthen their relationships with both the groups and the individual professionals who attend their events. This helps secure the council’s reputation as the “go-to source” for all things beef within that state.

The program is also a collaborative education tool that allows state beef councils and the national Beef Checkoff Program to work together efficiently to improve the health community’s knowledge of beef.

Because the program is funded through the national Beef Checkoff Program, state beef councils have a huge motivation to use it. “It’s an opportunity to have expert speakers reach a critical audience for beef without having to dip into their own budgets,” according to Erin Weber, RDN, manager of health communications outreach for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which manages the program under contract to the Beef Checkoff Program.

For the beef checkoff’s 2016 fiscal year (ended Sept. 30), 35 state beef councils had taken advantage of the program, says Weber. So far in fiscal year 2017, about a dozen have committed to participating in the program, with more expected to confirm their involvement before the end of the calendar year.

Among audiences that have been reached through the program are dietitians, physicians, nurses, physical fitness professionals and others in the health field. “These authorities either grant permission to eat beef, or they take it away,” according to Traci Bracco, executive director of the Idaho Beef Council (IBC). “It’s a critical audience for our message.” Students in these fields have also been reached.

Bracco and other state beef council managers and executives think the program is among the most effective and efficient examples of the state/national beef checkoff partnership.

“It works beautifully,” according to Holly Swee, director of nutrition and consumer information for the South Dakota Beef Industry Council (SDBIC). “We value having it as a resource and a tool for reaching our health audiences.”

Swee appreciates the fact that program speakers are approved and selected by the national beef team to make sure they are appropriate and accurate spokespeople for beef. Bracco agrees, and says it’s important that speakers have been selected for their experience, knowledge, speaking ability and appropriateness to the message. “These are vetted speakers, so we know we’re not taking a gamble on the message they will deliver,” she says.

Flexible and strategic

Health organizations appreciate the fact that they have the chance to select nationally-recognized speakers, with topics that make the most sense for their events. These groups sometimes have limited resources and reach, and don’t always have access to the highest quality speakers.

“Many times these groups have a hard time coming up with dynamic, credible, national presenters,” Swee says. “They’re searching for well-rounded speakers, and appreciate this resource. It allows us to get information out about beef and build relationships with these groups at the same time.”

“We couldn’t find this many high caliber presenters within Idaho – especially when there are so many different topics,” says Bracco. “Our efforts go much further, and our message carries more weight, when we can provide these national speakers.”

According to Donette Spann, promotion coordinator for the Arkansas Beef Council (ABC), the program offers tremendous value for their state. “Arkansas is not a huge state in terms of budget,” she says. “Because the Nutrition Seminar Program is funded nationally, we can still have a well-coordinated and professional program.

Another state with a limited budget is South Carolina, which significantly stretches that budget with the national program, according to Roy Copelan, executive director of the South Carolina Beef Council (SCBC). “I would rate this checkoff-funded program an A+,” he says. “It’s a great avenue to tell the beef story, and has matched very well for us.”

This coming March, at the South Carolina Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Conference, the SCBC will participate in the Nutrition Seminar program for the third time. Copelan says his organization has seen increasing attendance and interest each of the years a program-sponsored speaker has presented. Furthermore, he has gotten positive reviews on the presentations from participants of subsequent health-oriented events at which SCBC exhibits, including the family physicians, hospital and health associations.

“We’re getting great mileage out of this program,” he says.

“Our board absolutely loves it,” says ABC’s Spann. “It makes good sense economically, as we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Plus, we’re able to bring in nationally known speakers who can give topics a fresh perspective.”

Swee, who says South Dakota has utilized the program for at least 10 years, believes beef producers are getting tremendous value through it for their beef checkoff dollar. “This is definitely a big bang for the buck,” she says. “We’re going directly to the source. And we’re being very transparent with this audience, able to get current and reliable research information directly into the hands of people who can use it.”

Many of the speakers have done research that involved beef, and have “walked the walk,” says Idaho’s Bracco. “These speakers believe in beef protein, so it’s a win/win for both the group and the industry,” she says. As representatives of the beef industry, “you never have to worry about the Nutrition Seminar program.”

While the information is important, the presentation is also critical, says Mitch Rippe, director of nutrition and education at the Nebraska Beef Council (NBC). “It’s pretty cool that we’re bringing in researchers, but what’s really great is that these individuals are also some very engaging speakers,” he says. “We’ve never had a bad one.”

In addition to programs in Nebraska, Rippe has worked with beef councils in surrounding states, including Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, to utilize the Nutrition Seminar program to gather and provide presentations to top influencers from their states. In this way, the councils can share some influencer costs regionally, utilizing the national program to tap into the expertise found within the speakers bureau.

Since the program is funded nationally, states like Arkansas can get involved in the health organization events as much as their budget and interest allows, says Spann. She says the program provides an important piece of the ABC’s involvement with the health community. The state council also pays for a lunch, a reception and a booth at the annual Arkansas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics conference, so the speakers “are just the icing on the cake,” she says.

 The topics

Weber says speakers are capable of presenting on a wide number of current topics. Protein is key, of course, and beef as a first food has also become popular with recent research of interest to the health community. This year, feeding the family will also be a prime topic, as the beef checkoff promotes its Families in Motion campaign.

ABC’s Spann says a popular presentation in their state recently focused on the changing needs of a woman’s diet throughout her lifetime and beef’s role in making a significant difference in overall health and energy. This was presented by Kim Schwabenbauer, MS, RD, LDN, who has more than 14 years of experience as a registered dietitian. Schwabenbauer is a triathlon coach, a professional triathlete, a certified specialist in sports nutrition and a nationally-recognized speaker to companies and conferences on sports nutrition related topics.

Spann says presentations can sometimes focus significantly on beef – but not always. She notes, however, that beef messages are always incorporated into the presentations. Occasionally, she says, ABC will work with other ag groups, such as dairy, to combine common messages, such as sustainability, the environment or family farming.

Thousands reached

In South Dakota, Swee says the overall reach over the course of the program in the state has “easily been in the thousands,” with individual audiences in the 100-200 range. Those in the audiences are typically very receptive to the messages, and use them in their consumer outreach. “It’s a personal investment by these health influencers in acquiring information,” she says. “They ask good questions, and are sincere about wanting to learn more about the topics.”

Rippe estimates NBC has been able to reach about half of the key nutrition influencers in Nebraska through the program, and says the quality and credibility of the speakers has helped his organization expand its outreach to audiences they may not have been able to reach. “This program really gives states the ability to reach a variety of key influencers at the state level,” he says.

IBC’s Bracco says the program allows her board to budget for not only expected health organization events, but for two “opportunistic” events every year. “This allows us to do our jobs better,” she says. “It’s really a great program.”

“We’re reaching major influencers – the decision-makers in their organizations,” says Spann in Arkansas. “Our beef checkoff focuses on reaching the right audiences at the right time with the right message, and no checkoff-funded program better succeeds at that than this one.”

The Federation of State Beef Councils is a division of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which is a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program. The program is administered by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, with oversight provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States may retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board.

Speaking up for Beef