WASHINGTON, Kan. — “There is a lot more to the Beef Checkoff than hearing Sam Elliott’s voice at the dinner table,” Jake Pannbacker said. From high school students to highly respected dietitians, athletes, and chefs, Kansas Beef Council (KBC) programs are in place to educate and promote the benefits of beef to our neighbors next door and across the globe.
Pannbacker is a third-generation cattleman in Washington County, Kansas. “Our operation includes row crops, cow-calf pairs, stockers, and a small feedlot to finish out our calves and also some custom finishing for neighbors.” Like many producers, he said they stay diversified, which brings a unique reference point to his seat on the KBC Executive Committee.
While Pannbacker does not take the opportunity to be in a room with large western Kansas cattle feeders or prominent seedstock producers at KBC Executive Committee meetings lightly, he is reminded it takes cattlemen of all types to best decide the future of the beef industry in Kansas. “You have the cross-section of experience, and we all have our own way of doing things,” Pannbacker explained. “We may not all agree, but in the end, we compromise on what is going to move the industry forward.”
Moving forward is one thing everyone agrees on, and Pannbacker is optimistic about current and future KBC projects that will improve the demand for beef regionally and internationally. He remarks on the excitement of the entire room as the KBC Executive Committee discusses future developments that will impact Kansas-raised beef. While the future is exciting, KBC’s current projects are driving meaningful conversations and growing demand today.
Producers are well-versed in a long list of subjects, including animal care, land management and economics, but, for many, consumer marketing and self-promotion are not their forte. “It’s a luxury for us to get off the farm to go to Kansas City or Dallas for a few days,” Pannbacker said. “But if you have a chef at a restaurant who understands your product, understands what you’re doing, and they enjoy working with your product, they are going to be far more effective in marketing your product.” He recalled going to a steakhouse in Kansas City where the steaks were presented flawlessly, noting the thoughtful skill it takes to provide an experience that makes people want to return for beef. “They may get the glory, but it makes doing the legwork, like calving in February, easier when we have such strong advocates for our product constantly working in areas we can’t be physically,” said Pannbacker.
Educating chefs and dietitians on the importance of beef in consumers’ diets is a KBC priority. The Nutrition Adventure Program, a partnership with Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma Beef councils, took dietitians on a bus tour of the beef industry in Kansas, providing hands-on experience in beef production and taught them how beef fits into a healthy diet. A similar effort hosted chefs in Kansas City. Continued outreach to those areas will be vital to reaching urban audiences. “It’s important that others are informed to provide that message on our behalf,” Pannbacker said.
In addition to reaching culinary professionals, KBC has continued long-time programs that encourage high schools to use beef in the classroom by reimbursing beef costs for curriculums that promote healthy recipes using beef. “Abby Heidari, KBC staff dietitian, had a map of participants, and it was amazing to see the cluster of classrooms in KC Metro or Wichita,” Pannbacker said, encouraged by the impact the program has, not only in rural Kansas, but in metropolitan areas as well.
Pannbacker laughs as he recalls the popular bumper sticker “The West wasn’t won on salads.” Perhaps no better modern-day example of that is the Kansas Beef Council-funded Team Beef. Team Beef has grown to include weekend warriors, like Pannbacker, to elite ultramarathoner Brandon Walker. “Talk about a great billboard,” Pannbacker said. “We can’t always get off the farm, but if he can share the benefits of beef and have people notice what that does, that’s the spokesperson we need.”
Moving forward, whether it’s KBC’s strategically placed billboard in Wichita or athletes proudly wearing Beef apparel at elite events, communication is the greatest challenge and the most significant opportunity. “We can agree to disagree,” Pannbacker said. “But you have to open up sensible, two-way communication,” which is exactly how the producer-led KBC is making progress in the demand for beef.
— Jake Pannbacker, Kansas Beef Council board member
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