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Berven: Cattle producers best people on earth

By By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 06/03/2010 9:25 AM

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AMES, Iowa —Bruce Berven is retiring as executive vice president of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association at a time when things are looking up for the beef industry.

The deep recession of the past few years hurt beef demand ,which was reflected in cattle prices. This resulted in negative returns in the cattle feeding sector for a couple of years.

Recently cattle prices have improved, and consumer demand is growing.

"I think people are saying, 'We like beef and we're going to consume the product we like," Berven said.

Beef supplies have been reduced nationwide and that has helped the current economic scenario. The number of cattle on feed nationwide has declined while increasing in Iowa.

"That gives me great optimism for the cattle industry in the upper Midwest, especially in Iowa," Berven said. "We're up 18 percent on fed cattle numbers while nationwide numbers are down 3 percent. Iowa has some significant cost of gain advantages due to grain prices and an abundance of co-products from ethanol production."

Iowa has diverse farming operations. Most cattle producers and feeders also raise corn.

"It's a win-win for the typical Iowa cattle producer," Berven said.

Berven grew up in Webster County. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in animal science from Iowa State University and then went to work for ISU Extension. He was executive vice president of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association from 1978 to 1985, spent 11 years in Colorado working for the National Cattlemen's Beef Board and U.S. Meat Export Federation and then ran the California Beef Council for eight years. He worked for Harris Beef Ranch Beef Co. from 2003 to 2006, when he returned to Iowa. He had just started a job in Des Moines when he received a call from the president of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association asking for his help.

"What stands out to me are the people," Berven said of his career. "It doesn't matter if it's Iowa, Colorado or California, cattle producers are the greatest people on earth."

Berven remembers the government-implemented price freezes in the 1970s and what that did to the cattle industry when they were lifted. In the 1980s, diet and health issues and consumer beef boycotts stood out. That was contrasted in the 1990s by the Atkins diet, which refuted some of the diet and health issues from the 1980s. No one in the beef industry will ever forget Dec. 23, 2003, the day BSE was found in an imported Canadian cow in Washington state.

Berven is proudest of his work during the 2009 legislative session on the bill allowing solid manure, or nutrient enhanced bedding material, to be applied to frozen and snow-covered land.

"That probably meant as much to the average Iowa cattle producer as anything else we've been involved with," he said.

He's also been pleased with the association's subsequent membership increase. When he worked at Harris Ranch Beef Co., he was part of getting the first beef shipment into Japan when that market resumed after closing due to the discovery of the BSE cow in the United States. When he worked for the California Beef Council, he implemented Hispanic beef marketing programs where 30 percent of the state's 35 million people are Hispanic.

"That was a pretty broad step outside the comfort zone of an Iowa farm boy," Berven said. "We broke the ground on that."

He and his wife, Ann, will continue living in Iowa where they can assist his elderly parents.

The couple has three adult children and 10 grandchildren in Ohio, Colorado and California.

"Having time to travel, observe and participate in grandkids' activities is something we're very much looking forward to," he said.

Berven, 62, said he's not looking for another job.

"We're going to enjoy the kids and grandkids and travel and do the things we want to do before it's too late," he said.

Berven said Ann deserves a thank you.

"When I came back to ICA, it was pretty hard to leave work at night," he said. "Ann had to listen to me at the dinner table and the breakfast table. Often she would advise me, and she probably saved me a lot of trouble."