Grass & Grain

Grass & Grain 10-6-15

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By Steve Suther GeneNet was always about genetics and network- ing, but when the cattle mar- keting alliance was just an idea 40 years ago, few be- sides founder Ken Conway thought it would get a chance to work. Looking back, he says he didn't know enough to doubt he could change the beef in- dustry for the good. Conway learned, and taught many quality-focused cattle pro- ducers how to make more money by satisfying con- sumers. That's why the Certified Angus Beef® brand honored Conway and GeneNet with its 2015 Progressive Partner Award, which he accepted with wife Charlotte at the brand's annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, Sept. 26. The year after earning FFA Star Farmer of Kansas at 17, while serving as a state officer in 1969, the Plainville native's sights were lifted above farming. The first new impression was 140 miles east at Kansas State Univer- sity, where he discovered "what I would do the rest of my life." Four years later, Conway wanted to stay on, so he helped coordinate and care for cattle on feed at the Beef Research Unit for two years before the purebred herds- man post opened, and he stayed another three years, earning an MS in beef cattle nutrition by 1976. He thought about a PhD and teaching classes, but Con- way's favorite professors had "real world" experience. To gather more of that, he signed on with an oil compa- ny executive's upstart R&J Ranch near Austin, Texas. "Most herdsmen for big- money ranches last three to five years, so I thought this would be great fun before going for my PhD," he says. But R&J made things plenty interesting with the first on- ranch embryo transfer pro- gram. That fun lasted nearly 18 years, until Conway, then 44 and well-known in the pure- bred Angus arena, decided to go for his PhD at last. Maybe he could still be a professor. But what really caught his attention in 1993 was the beef industry's Strategic Al- liances Demonstration Proj- ect. The doctoral program at Texas A&M University had close links to that project that would launch dozens of "strategic alliances" across the beef cattle community in the next five years. Conway had seen the show ring give ground to data-based selection but wondered why commercial operators paid more for bet- ter bulls when 95% of fin- ished cattle all sold for the same price each week. "I'd seen the pig and chicken boys set up integrat- ed systems from genetics to the finished product, but fig- ured it was not possible until I saw the alliance idea," he said. Top of mind for Conway then was how to put children through college while transi- tioning careers. He'd been near the top as a high-profile Angus herd manager but in the commercial industry, he would be "low dog on the totem pole." Weighing the entry-level salary as a professor against prospects for a startup busi- ness that could change that industry, he decided to go for the PhD with a mission to develop an emerging vision. "I saw a grid where cat- tlemen could get more money for higher quality cat- tle," Conway said. "I wanted to organize a group of breed- ers that had enough of those cattle that I could go to a beef packer and ask them to pay more than average money on a grid or formula." He knew hundreds of Angus producers from the previous 20 years, and start- ed communicating with them while taking "as many meats classes as I could" to finish the PhD with greater understanding of the product side. Having a card that said "doctor" opened doors at the big feedlots and packing plants, "but most of them still thought I was crazy," he said. One exception was Beef America, Norfolk, Neb., which was expanding its high-quality niche by going after a specific breed type. It founded Angus America to incorporate much of Conway's vision. He moved from Texas to South Dakota for a time and By Steve Suther Brothers Shawn and Shane Tiffany grew up in the feedlot business, around a 42-acre yard built on the run- ways of an old Army Air Corps base. Their dad, Steve, was a manager at what was then Black Diamond Feeders near Herington for 14 years, starting in 1988. Only a year apart in school, they were on live- stock judging teams together and earned degrees in animal science at Kansas State Uni- versity. A minor in business foretold Shane's first career as cattle buyer for Bartlett & Co. in the Texas Panhandle. Shawn's Master's in repro- ductive physiology led him to manage Chair Rock Land & Cattle near Kansas City. But from the start, each wanted to build a legacy. "The things we learned from our father can be ap- plied anywhere," Shawn says. "Let your yes be yes and your handshake as good as a contract." Black Diamond owner, U.S. Premium Beef (USPB) cofounder and mentor to the Tiffanys, Doug Laue advised them, "Always do your best and the opportunities will come," Shane says. "People will take notice." Laue noticed, and in 2007 he called the brothers, one after the other. "He asked if we would ever consider coming back and buying into the feedlot," Shawn recalls. "There was some uncertainty in the cat- tle industry then, so a lot of our advisors warned us off." They were torn. They prayed and called each other, debating whether it was the right thing for their young families. Then Shawn summed it up: "If we're 80 years old and in our rocking chairs, if we don't do this, are we ever going to regret it?" The question was an an- swer. Of course they would. The company name changed Dec. 1, 2007. Tiffany Cattle Company received the 2015 Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) Feedlot Commitment to Ex- cellence Award, accepted by Shane and wife Morgan at the brand's annual confer- ence in San Antonio, Texas, Sept. 26. "We started with six em- ployees and 3,000 cattle for 10 or 12 customers, whereas now we have 20 dedicated employees, a customer list of 150 and stay pretty full at 12,000 to 14,000 head," says Shane, CEO of the cattle company. Equal partner Shawn functions as chief op- erating officer at the yard, and president of Tiffany Family Farms. Day to day, titles are not important and everyone works together. That ap- proach dealt successfully with the first crisis, ten days into the new venture when an ice storm shut down power for the next ten days. They learned to be ready for anything. As spring came around, Shawn was tagged to head up farming simply because he had a garden. He parlayed that into a 2,500-acre, no-till operation known today across the Midwest for inno- vation and cover crop strate- gies. It was obvious from the start that the community would support these feedlot owners, just into their 30s. "To local people, I think even when we are in our 90s we'll be the Tiffany boys," Shane says. "They wanted to see us come home and make something of it so they sent us cattle to take care of, and our customer list grew." The "boys" try to give back every day so the next generation will have oppor- tunities, "something to stay home for," and it starts with their own eight children in the two families. Shawn is on the board of a local telecommunications business and Shane is mayor of nearby Alta Vista, where he recently reopened a gro- cery store that had been closed for years. Both are ac- tive in church and men's ministry on a wider scale. The brothers thrive on overcoming challenges from weather to markets, but admit the first one was close to home. Those who knew them as boys wondered how they could be in business to- gether. "We're both very Type-A, so we have locked horns a time or two," Shawn says. But they agree on almost everything these days, in- cluding the key to success: "It's because there's two of us. We feed almost all cus- tomer cattle, so while Shane is in the office most of the time, it helps to have an owner looking at things out in the yard every day, catch- ing little things before they become big." Fixing those little things early shelters customers from risk and helps build re- lationships. "Part of our mo- tivation is just that we like helping people," he says. The outward focus defines the culture of employees High calling – Tiffany Cattle Company wins CAB Feedlot Commitment to Excellence Award After purchasing Black Diamond Feeders in 2007 Shane and Shawn Tiffany have worked together to grow Tiffany Cattle Company to a 12,000-14,000 head operation with a strong focus on customer relation- ships. Photos by Steve Suther Using performance data to improve the quality of cattle, they strive to build a wider community for beef by offering a more consistent product for consumers. Conway and GeneNet earn CAB Progressive Partner Award for marketing innovation With an eye on producing quality beef through genetics and networking, Ken Conway founded GeneNet. Continued on page 3 Continued on page 3 10-6-15 Sect. 1.qxp:Layout 1 9/30/15 2:02 PM Page 1

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