Nancy Jo Bateman, executive director of the North Dakota Beef Commission, has been promoting beef for 36 years.
Originally from Kindred, N.D., she went to North Dakota State University, with a degree in foods and nutrition V.K. Johnson, who coached her NDSU Meats Judging Team, guided her to a job in Bismarck, N.D., at the North Dakota Dairy Promotion Commission.
In 1984, she took a post with the North Dakota Beef Commission coordinating education programs. “We relied tremendously on our ‘Cowbelles,’ now the North Dakota Cattlewomen,” Bateman recalls.
In 1986, a national beef checkoff program came into play, significantly increasing money for consumer advertising, aimed primarily on population centers where consumers have little contact with farmers and ranchers.
“That’s when we saw ‘Beef it’s what’s for dinner,’” as a popular promotional slogan, she says. “It was effective. It was exciting. It really put beef on the map, I think."
At the same time, dollars could go into research on beef, providing science to “back up claims we wanted to make and to defend our product from claims others were making,” especially with regard to nutrition and heart health.
A key moment in Bateman’s career was 2003, when the “mad cow” disease (formally, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) cases arrived in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the cattle industry leadership had seen BSE cases unfold in Europe. They had put safeguards against a U.S. infestation and quickly got credible information to federal and state regulators, organization leaders would effectively have to explain it — congressional members, the governor and the commissioner of agriculture.
“They were all singing from the same page of the same book,” she says. “Over the country, we actually saw the trust and confidence of beef go up.”
Today, the industry is working to grow markets, such as Japan, where a growing middle class will choose beef. They foster the Beef Quality Assurance program to improve practices, and work to communicate their values an increasingly urban populace.
“We don’t have people with a history in agriculture anymore,” she says.