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Out of his comfort zone

By Staff | May 5, 2013

STEVE VAN VOORST said he believes producers should be pro-active when it comes to legislation that involves livestock operations, saying it’s difficult to change regulations once they have been made. He farms near Sioux Center and helps manage a large fed cattle herd, and is a member of the 2013 Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program.

SIOUX CENTER – Raising feedlot cattle is something Steve Van Voorst said he always wanted to do. These days, however, he’s seeing that there is more to the beef industry than the daily chores and year-round work that goes into maintaining a herd.

Van Voorst, 28, is a member of the 2013 Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program, sponsored by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. He’s one of 23 cattle producers from around the state to participate in this one-year experience, which gives them a broad-based education on the industry from a behind-the-scenes angle.

“It gives young producers a chance to get involved with the ICA and see what they do,” Van Voorst said.

The program is designed to develop leadership skills and qualities in young producers through their taking part in lobbying at the state capitol, learning more about the ICA and what the organization does for livestock producers, learning about the Iowa Cattlemen’s Foundation and the Iowa Beef Industry Council, learning more about beef industry issues from news makers, learning how to raise funding for the ICA and more.

The group will meet four or five times throughout the course of the one-year experience.

His first trip was in March, traveling to the ICA headquarters in Ames to get an overview of what it does, and to the state capitol to visit with legislators about bills that affect young farmers.

“I hadn’t been there since the fifth grade,” he said. “It was really interesting because we actually got to meet with the representatives. They want to hear from us because they don’t always know what’s going on here unless we tell them.”

The young leaders group attended an ICA meeting, and heard from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. They also met representatives of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“You never think that you can actually speak to those people,” Van Voorst said, “but there we were, a small group of producers, talking to them.

“They’re very approachable and they want us to know that they’re here to help us.”

He said that first trip has beckoned him to go back for more.

“We met people from across the state who have the same interests as we do,” he said, “and we all learned new things, even from each other.”

For him, part of the learning involved hearing from producers who have cow/calf operations, which are different from feedlot cattle operations.

With only one trip under his belt so far, Van Voorst said he has learned the importance of producers becoming involved in legislation affecting livestock production, because the rules made legislators affect all producers.

“We need to be pro-active as livestock producers,” he said. “We can’t have people fight for us in the legislature if they don’t know what we do.

“They need to hear from us. It’s harder to fight once the rules have already been made.”

Van Voorst said he learned the ICA has one person in the legislature that sits in and communicates with legislators, speaking up for livestock producers.

While he was at the capitol, Van Voorst said the ICA reviewed bills and issues that affect livestock producers, including the Young Farmer Bill, grants and loans to purchase land and fuel taxes

Van Voorst said he found environmental regulations was important to him.

“I don’t see them getting any smaller,” Van Voorst said. “We still have to have people to fight for our well being.

“The fuel tax affects everybody, so we have to bring our concerns to our legislators. We have to help them to make good decisions, and part of that is actually talking to them.”

Having this experience this year, Van Voorst said he hopes to promote the beef industry more effectively and meet new people along the way.

“I hope to gain experience in talking to people and making new connections,” he said. “It’s kind of neat to understand what the ICA does for us.

“Now I think I’ll have more confidence in bring up concerns, and if I do go out and meet with other producers, I’ll know how things work with ICA and with legislators.

“As young producers, we’re going to have to put up with (government rules) for the rest of our lives or at least for the rest of our careers in the livestock business,” he said. “We might as well try to help them make good decisions.”

Part of his leadership training is contacting local legislators regarding fundraising issues on behalf of the ICA.

Van Voorst said he is learning to step outside his comfort zone by learning how to do that with the Carcass Challenge, which raises money for the ICA. All of those in the training program are responsible for contacting their local legislators as part of this process.

He’s been in contact with Sioux County-based legislators Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, and State Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull, regarding livestock production issues and inviting them to be part of the fundraising efforts for the ICA.

“I was really surprised to find out that they do get back to you if you contact them,” Van Voorst said. “They do want to hear from the people of their district.”

Van Voorst farms and raises feedlot cattle on the familys home place northeast of Sioux Center. He and his parents, Harlan and Linda Van Voorst, grow corn and have a 2,800-head feedlot cattle operation, which they hope to expand.

Van Voorst became involved in the Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program through his livestock nutritionist, who encouraged him to apply.

“You never know what opportunities you’ll be given in life,” he said.

Others in the Farm News’ coverage area participating in the 2013 Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program include Garrett Ballard, of Green Mountain in Marshall County; Joel Broich, of Alta in Buena Vista County; Kevin Cordray, of Nevada in Story County and David Laubenthal, of Wesley in Kossuth County.

The program is sponsored by the ICA, with funding provided by the Iowa Cattlemens Foundation and members of the ICA Presidents Council.

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