After an eventful week in Phoenix, Ariz., at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention, Lucinda Williams joins the ranks of many ranchers across the country elected by fellow cattlemen and women to serve as Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) chair. But in this case, she brings a different perspective from a different part of the world as a dairy producer from the heavily populated northeast.
Lucinda's roots to the beef industry date back to life growing up as the daughter of a Colorado cowboy and rancher. Lucinda's father raised cattle in Holly, Colo., and also grew sugar beets. Early in her parents' marriage, they made the choice to put farming on hold for a while and go back to school. Her father got involved with the Extension Service and never did make it back to the land full time. Instead, he became a professor and worked for the extension service. They lived in Virginia until Lucinda was a teen, at which time they moved to Massachusetts and their current home of Hatfield. “Even though we didn't live on a farm, we still had a 5-acre garden,” jokes Lucinda.
After moving to Massachusetts, the first family to invite them to dinner was the Williams family who had a dairy farm in town. That's how she met Darryl and 25 years of marriage later, she would pick him again. At the time, she thought that she was marrying a teacher but soon after their engagement, Darryl realized teaching just wasn't for him – agriculture was in his blood – he had to give back to the land.
So Lucinda was the one to return to the farm. Darryl is the 12th generation on their land, which came down through his mother's family. Over the years, the land has been used for a sheep operation, onions, tobacco and cucumbers. It was Darryl's father who married into the family and introduced dairy.
“Dairy farming is hard. You don't go into it for the time off or the money, you do it because you love the animals and the lifestyle,” says Lucinda. “There was never any pressure from family for us to take over the farm. It came down to our love for farming and that outweighed all else. It's still quite evident it's a family trait: Darryl's dad still helps with chores and plants corn, while his mom still does the daily feeding of calves in the morning.”
Lucinda and Darryl milk 100 cows with a total of 200 animals with replacements. They crop 250 acres (own 180, rent the rest), raising corn, alfalfa and hay. In her part of the country, farmland is small and spread out with their biggest field sizing in at just 22 acres.
“The reality is, even though we live in a quiet, rural town,” continues Lucinda, “we farm on a residential street.”
But that's a unique trait she brings to the Beef Board. Lucinda farms smack dab in the middle of a highly consumer-populated area. By the Act and the Order, there is no Massachusetts Beef Industry Council. Lucinda's position on the Board represents eight states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.
“I tend to think I don't come with preconceived notions on how things should or should not be in the beef industry since my farm life and location are so different from many of the Beef Board members,” says Lucinda. “My beef industry experience is somewhat limited, but this also helps me bring a fresh set of eyes. I evaluate things not because we've always done it this way but I ask WHY do we do it this way.”
Lucinda was originally involved with her dairy co-op, Agri-Mark, as president of the Young Cooperator program. Over the years, she became connected with the board of directors and when a position came open on the Beef Board, they asked if she'd be willing to serve and proceeded to nominate her. (At the time, she was also a delegate on New England Dairy Promotion Board.)
But that's just what Lucinda does – she volunteers her time in an effort to give back part of what the land and the industry has given to her. And she comes to the Beef Board chair position with a different voice: one of constant reminder that the dairy segment is an important part of the beef industry.
“I'm glad to be able to bring that message forward and remind my fellow dairy farmers that they are beef producers, too, all the while reminding fellow beef producers not to forget about the dairy segment of our industry,” says Lucinda. “I share that voice and message on both sides of the aisle.
“At the end of the day, the way we've been going may be the best way to do things. Just because I question something, doesn't mean it needs to be changed. It just means, let's take a look at it. If it doesn't need to be changed, we're doing well. If not, let's look at ways to make it better.”
Amidst the bright opportunities for the Beef Board in the coming year, there are also some challenges, mainly, Lucinda points out, in declining revenues. All checkoff program areas aim to increase beef demand but producers can't fund all of them. It's a good problem to have – too many quality programs to fund and not enough money to do it – but it's still a problem. Lucinda says the checkoff will have to work smarter, not just harder. Just as producers have become more efficient in our homes and our businesses, so will they be more efficient with producer checkoff investments at the state beef council level and the CBB.
So in times of economic struggle when producers ask, “What's the checkoff doing for me? And what do you want to accomplish as chair?”, Lucinda responds by saying how much better off producers are now than they would be without the checkoff at all. And, it just makes sense for the beef checkoff to work with industry partners. For instance, we have so much in common with the dairy checkoff with nutrient rich foods, animal handling and quality assurance issues that it's mutually beneficial to combine resources to work on these projects in the coming year.
“Without the checkoff, we couldn't conduct programs like issues management where we address animal welfare, animal rights and BSE. We couldn't be successful marketing our product overseas. Sometimes the benefits aren't ‘seen,' and that's when you have to trust in your checkoff leadership from the state level on up.”
Lucinda and Darryl have four children: Rebecca, 23; Jackson, 20; Mae, 17 and Lenette, 14. She works part time at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and in her “spare time,” bales hay, milks, drives trucks and feeds calves. Her personal balancing act continues through volunteer work consisting of directing the church hand bell choir, serving as co-producer for the school musical and serving on school committees. But she's pared down. Lucinda also served many years as a volunteer EMT but let her license lapse in December 2008.
“I see big challenges ahead, but I believe in us as farmers and ranchers, dairymen and agriculturalists. I believe that we are the lifeblood of our nation. I want to look forward, not back. I'm just excited to get to work.”