Unless the men and women who now raise cattle on America’s ranches can pass along their love of the ranching life to their children, beef ranching in the United States could disappear within a generation or two. That’s the glum prediction of Andy Groseta, a third-generation cattle rancher in Arizona who was 2008 president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

"We need to get more young people involved in this business," he told MEATPOULTRY.com. "The average age of cattlemen now is around 60 years old. When we’re gone, it’s going to be tough to keep up the industry unless the young people take it on."

But why would they? Groseta himself ticks off the chores in what he calls "a tough business": up before dawn every morning of the year, mending fences in all kinds of fierce weather, helping cows birth calves in the middle of the night, and fighting off predators (and, sometimes, creditors), all the while enduring the whims of an often-cruel cattle market and sometimes even crueler Mother Nature. Among other factors including consolidation of farm and ranchland, the hard life of farming and ranching has thinned the numbers of families directly involved in crop and livestock production to historic lows. According to the U.S. Census, about two million Americans are now employed as farmers and ranchers. There are more Americans incarcerated in the nation’s prisons than outside working the land.

The irony, Groseta noted, is that since everyone eats, everyone is involved with farming and ranching in one way or another. "As long as you sit down to breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’re involved," he said.

But a lot of ranching parents aren’t encouraging their kids to get into the family business. "They don’t want their children to work the long hours for the short pay that they did," last year’s NCBA president commented. "But I’ll tell you, the very best place to raise a family is on a farm or a ranch. You learn to be responsible, to take care of livestock that are dependent on you. Cattle don’t take a day off; neither can you if you’re ranching. But that kind of responsibility really teaches something."

He added that the cattle business would benefit from the new ideas younger ranchers might bring. "The young men in this industry that I know, they’ve got a lot of good ideas," he commented. "They think outside the box, which is what this business needs right now." He’s fortunate, he said, that his son and grandchildren, the fourth and fifth generations of Grosetas, live and work on the ranch.

And he’s proud, he added, that NCBA is encouraging more participation from young cattlemen through two programs, the Young Producers Council, a new effort designed for young people aged 18-35, and the Young Cattlemen’s Conference. Established last year, the YPC hopes to groom future industry and NCBA leaders through education in leadership, policy planning and professional development. In keeping with the times, there’s a Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=16802628169. The Young Cattlemen’s Conference dates back to 1980 and educates potential industry leaders about all aspects of beef production as well as consumer education.

But Groseta worries that it’s going to take more than leadership development to ensure the future of cattle ranching. "One big issue for us is that the federal government and the Internal Revenue Service don’t really encourage passing along farms and ranches to the next generation. We really need to eliminate the estate tax – the ‘death tax,’ I call it," he told MEATPOULTRY.com.

Groseta’s grandparents emigrated to Arizona from Croatia in the 1880s, he said, and founded the family ranch with little money but a lot of hard work. But he thinks today’s immigrants would have a more difficult time getting into ranching: "It takes major capital to get up and running nowadays," he added. "These people coming here work really hard, but it just takes so much money to build a ranch."

Besides tax issues Groseta thinks the government is an impediment to ranching’s future in other ways. "We’ve got to get a more favorable business climate," he told MEATPOULTRY.com. "As a society, we need to have policies in place that are favorable to agriculture. Now there are regulations for everything, all these environmental laws and the paperwork. But those of us who work the land, the ranchers and farmers, we’re the true stewards of the land, the true environmentalists."