DENVER – Keith Miller, the newest chairman of the US Meat Export Federation executive committee, has worn many hats during his career. During the day, Miller is a third-generation Barton County, Kan., farmer-stockman with a 370-head commercial cow operation. He and his wife, Connie, and their three daughters also farm more than 7,500 acres of wheat, alfalfa, milo, corn and soybeans.

He has been active locally, serving on the county board, as president of U.S.D. 355 School Board, on numerous boards and commissions, including Midwest Energy Inc., which provides power to the western half of Kansas. He's also served on Kansas' Natural and Environmental Resources and State Resolutions committees, testifying before numerous legislative committees. And for more than 20 years, he has been actively involved with Farm Bureau, which was his entrée to USMEF.

"One day, sitting on the tractor, I realized that 70% of everything I grow is going into meat exports," Miller said. "I thought that if I get involved [in USMEF] and I can make a difference, it will improve my farm and others like mine."

Miller got involved through Kansas Farm Bureau, which joined USMEF. He attended USMEF's fall 2003 meeting and became interested, not only in the international market, but in spreading the message that investing Checkoff dollars in the international market is critical.

Global growth projections show more than 2 billion more people will need to be fed by 2050 – nearly the equivalent of two more Chinas – and Miller sees opportunity for US red-meat exports.

"We're looking at declining domestic red-meat consumption," he added. "For farmers like me to remain profitable, we need to be ready to meet the demand of foreign consumers and provide them the product they're looking for, not just what we want to supply them. They are the customer and, as the old saying goes, the customer is always right."

"The customer," as Miller has observed from his travels to overseas markets including Japan, South Korea and China, is being actively wooed by a number of US red meat competitors, including Australia, Brazil, Denmark and many others. In Hong Kong, for example, 45 different countries are exporting beef to that high-value market.

One of Miller’s key messages as he starts his year as chairman of USMEF is increasing funding for international programs. "As we expand those programs, we need to expand our funds proportionately," he said.

By utilizing its relationships with international importers, retailers and food service operators, USMEF has been able to obtain significant investments to support US programs overseas, Miller noted. In the past year alone, USMEF has gained $24.3 million in these "third-party" commitments to magnify the buying power of the US investment.

"For every $1 in Checkoff money that USMEF spent overseas this year, it's been able to match it with $2.77 in funding from USDA, its membership and international business partners," said Miller. "That's an effective use of our Checkoff dollars."