Field managers promote Va. beef
Integrity that lets buyers and sellers trust them is essential to the job the two Virginia Cattlemen’s Association field managers perform for the state’s beef industry.
Butch Foster of Bristol, Va., has 19 years of experience in the job. He talked about the job recently before the association held a tel-o-auction at Pulaski County Livestock Market in Dublin, Va.
Troy Lawson who has been on the job for about six years lives in Augusta County. He talked about the job he loves on the telephone.
“I’m basically the go-between between buyers and sellers,” Foster said. “I get the sellers to sell and the buyers to buy.”
“I work with the markets and the farmers,” Lawson explained. Buyers are included in his work day as well.
Foster said one problem they have is people who just see them at the livestock auction barns who think they are state employees. This is not the case. The Virginia Cattlemen’s Association is their employer. It is not a state agency, he stressed. It is an organization comprised of beef cattle producers.
Although other states have cattlemen’s associations, Foster said, he does not know of any other state association except Virginia’s that conducts its own sales.
The field managers, aka field men, play a vital role in this process. Each man has to represent both the buyer and the seller. Truth is what they strive for in evaluating cattle to best serve each.
“I’m the eyes of the buyer, like tonight,” Foster said before the tel-o-auction in Dublin.
He was buying for people who could not see the cattle.
“They trust me to use their money the same as if it were my money,” he explained.
He acknowledged this can be stressful attempting to represent the cattle as they are.
“I’ve left here (the tel-o-auction) with a home run and I’ve left here when I thought cattle should have brought more,” he mused. “If you are not worrying about it, you’re not doing your job.”
The field men also work at building camaraderie between buyers and sellers. This includes taking farmers on tours out of state to see how their cattle are performing for the buyers as well as attending national, state and local meetings.
Both men talked about where the Virginia cattle go. They noted many are headed to Pennsylvania, a traditional market, especially for Virginia fall calves.
“A lot of our cattle head west,” Lawson reported.
These include going to operations in both the Eastern and Upper Midwest. Foster said they still have a major buyer in Ohio.
“We’re very fortunate to have major interstates available to us,” Lawson observed. “We can go north or west.”
Foster said he and Lawson work with farmers who don’t have truck in lining up the transportation they need to ship their animals.
The work of a field manager is demanding, Foster explained. He reported having from five to 10 telephone calls per day.
“I always answer them or call back,” he continued. “We are trying to promote Virginia cattle seven days a week.”
Foster and Lawson both described a flexible system of covering the state. Roanoke is the traditional divide in their areas but that is not set in stone. The Southwest usually falls to Foster while north into the Shenandoah Valley goes to Lawson. As the industry grows to the south, both are helping buyers and sellers.
Lawson said they stay in touch and communicate constantly with one another so each one knows what is happening in beef across the state.
Both said they sometimes cover for each other or trade off as circumstances demand.
In his 19 years Foster has seen lots of change in the industry. He said buyers now want feeder calves that are weaned and vaccinated. When he started no calves were weaned. They went from momma in the field straight to market.
Handling methods have changed as well.
Each man came to the job with personal agricultural backgrounds, one might say they are farm boys.
Foster grew up with his father who is now 92 and still on the farm. Both father and son have been order buyers. Foster reported that he worked at the livestock market in Abingdon for 25 years and managed it for three or four years. He’s sold cattle as well.
“I kind of know what the buyers, the sellers and the livestock operators are expecting,” he stated. “I always like to treat everybody the same, if they sold two head or if they sold 5,000 head.
Lawson also grew in the livestock industry as part of a farming family.
Foster reported that there is a complete new generation of buyers. He said, with some sadness, that the old generation is gone. One of the perks of the job for him is the many friendships he has made within the whole industry.
“We’ve got good new buyers coming on board,” he stated.
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