Animal Science Students Attend the 2024 NCBA Conference Hosted in Orlando, Florida

Five students with a passion for the beef industry, attended the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association conference earlier this year, accompanied by animal science professor Brad Skaar. “I wanted to create an opportunity for our students to not only see the organizations that provide leadership in the beef industry but get to sit down, interact, and learn from them,” said Skaar. Students included Clayton Stoskopf, Ashlee Demolles, Ian Johnson, Matthew Brinkman, and Lauren Kaldenberg. 

This trip was just one part of the returning Beef Leadership Fellows, a program that offers to fill a gap in our beef production classes. Skaar explained, “In An S 226, students are learning the science and basics of beef cattle, and in 426, they are learning about what it takes to become successful cattle producers, but there is a lot of leadership and decision-making that goes into our industry as well and that exposure and interaction is exactly what we want to provide our students.” 

During the trip, students we able to sit down with past and current NCBA presidents, join in on the discussion in the region three district meeting, attend policy sessions, cattlemen’s college, and roam the 8-acre tradeshow with representatives from businesses and organizations across the beef industry. Students could attend sessions that interested them, allowing each to have a customized experience. When asked about his favorite topic discussed at the convention, Ian Johnson, a senior in animal science, said, “I really enjoyed the multiple presentations given about the advancement of cattle genetics/genomics and where the industry is headed. The presentations were engaging and well related to consumer demands and the sustainability of the cattle industry for future generations.” 

Students also got the chance to visit three different cattle operations located in Central Florida, learning about their dry rangeland production and unique predators. Their first stop was to a purebred Brangus breeder, Ralph Pelaez, operating a 3rd generation family ranching business with roots in Venezuela, whom Skaar referred to as a Florida cattle icon.  

They then traveled to Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, a 40,000-acre research operation currently running 3,500 head of cow-calf pairs. Lauren Kaldenberg shared that she considered this farm the most interesting stop, stating, “This ranch not only operates but also conducts research, conservation efforts, and educational opportunities. Their staff works to understand the impact of ranching and discover new ways to improve its sustainability.”  

They ended their day at a commercial cow-calf operation emphasizing performance measures, breeding program design, and technology implementation. “The producers in Florida were kind hosts, extremely valuable teachers, and very good at spotting and pointing out the alligators that, along with pythons and bald eagles, can cause them to lose 5-6% of their calf crop,” said Skaar. 

Participating students felt extremely grateful for the opportunities this trip provided them. Ian reflected on his experience, stating, “Dr. Skaar did an excellent job at allowing us to make our journey around the convention and customize it to our interests, while ensuring we met plenty of folks that provided great networking opportunities and insight. The cattle industry is a great place to be, and this trip confirmed my desire to be a part of it.” 

“My hope for this trip and the students is that they got the opportunity to observe how change happens in the cattle industry and learn who the leaders are from regional representation to agencies, organizations, companies, and the producers,” Skaar said, reflecting on the trip. “I would also like to thank our department chair, Dr. Ross, for seeing the benefit this program has and will continue to provide our students. With the reestablished funding, we look forward to selecting additional students next year through an application and interview process.” 

If you are a student interested in learning more about leadership in the cattle industry and joining the Beef Leadership Fellows program, we encourage you to contact Professor Brad Skaar. 


Additional Student Comments and Takeaways:  

  • Lauren Kaldenberg 
    • What do you think was the best part of your trip? 
      • “The highlight of this year’s trip to NCBA has to be the sheer number of producers, industry professionals, and state organizations we had the opportunity to network with. Every way you turn, there is always someone new to network with, whether at an informational session, lunch, on the bus, or even out in Orlando. The industry may seem large, but the connections made make it feel like a family. “ 
  • Ashlee Demolles 
    • What is one thing you learned you want to bring back to our department and your classes? 
      • “One thing I learned that I would want to bring back would be the importance of ag policy and how it will affect not only the beef industry but the ag industry as a whole. We don’t learn much about it in our classes, and many students would be interested if given the opportunity to learn more or hear more from those in that career. “ 
  • Ian Johnson 
    • What do you think was the best part of your trip? 
      • “The best part of the trip was connecting with farmers and ranchers, including the day spent near Lake Okeechobee, FL. Visiting three different ranches with diverse operations and goals allowed us to see what it is like to have cattle in a non-typical operation style compared to midwestern production. This included water management, disease control, and different breeds/breeding patterns. The people we were able to visit and receive tours with were exquisite at their roles, truly cared about the animals, and welcomed us happily to learn more about their operations.” 
    • What was the most surprising or interesting thing you learned about Florida’s beef production system? 
      • “While it may not be the most surprising part of the trip, being in the northern section of the Everglades, their comfort with alligators mocked our perception of raccoons or other rodents. I found that extremely interesting.”  
  • Matthew Brinkman 
    • What was the most surprising or interesting thing you learned about Florida’s beef production system? 
      • “One of the most exciting things that I learned from visiting some of the operations in Florida was the history of how some cattle got there from the Spaniards, how they rotate and manage their grass differently than we do in Iowa, and the effect that Florida has on the cattle industry.”