It's hard to differ with the beef industry's new long-range plan, if you consider 2010 long range. Unveiled at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) meeting in Denver, the plan calls for common sense.

While your radar sweep might extend several years beyond 2010, we do well to keep building our future four or five years at a time. If you want to drive somewhere, you have to follow a route and take it one section at a time. Let's review the sections of the continuing plan we have followed since the early 1990s.

Arguably, the beef industry got serious about long-range planning when it helped create the Beef Checkoff; certainly, when it commissioned the 1991 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA). Then like now, we were near the peak of a cattle price cycle and most producers were not especially worried about beef quality. Results showed an inefficient industry that was producing too much waste fat and not enough taste fat or marbling.

Producer leaders considered that first NBQA a wakeup call. As cattle prices headed lower, leaders made plans to turn around what was becoming a 20-year slide in consumer demand. They looked at the success of high-quality branding and began to chart the Choice-Select spread. A brand-like initiative was created. Some producers formed their own vertically aligned beef cooperatives. The industry commissioned a second NBQA-1995, which showed that progress would take time.

The National Cattlemen's Association joined forces with the National Live Stock & Meat Board to make NCBA's unified voice, and they created a 1996 long-range plan. Born in the depths of cyclical low cattle prices and just after the merger, the plan called for “a dynamic and profitable beef industry, which concentrates resources around a unified plan, consistently meets consumer needs and increases market share.”

That vision was tweaked in 2001 to address “global customers,” but it held fairly steady through a third NBQA-2000 and the commissioning of NBQA-2005. There has always been a link between the assessment of beef quality and the long-range plan.

The current, simpler vision calls for “a beef industry that is profitable, growing and sustainable for future generations.” This cut to the chase does not signify a departure from previous plans. It's just that by now, we hold some goals to be self-evident.