Doran honored for distinguished service
ORANGE CITY — Beth Doran, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach beef program specialist, accepted the Distinguished Service in Extension award last fall at the ISU annual award ceremony. It was presented by John Lawrence, vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach.
The award, which is the highest honor given to an extension professional, honored her for her accomplishments in her nearly three-decade-long career with ISU Extension and Outreach.
Only one award is issued in the state each year.
“I was surprised and humbled,” said Doran of her award. “I like to build relationships with the stakeholders I work with, be it producers, agribusiness people and colleagues. They all have a lot to do with it.”
Doran said she is not one to sit around and let the work come to her.
“I like to know what’s going on out there so I can develop programming, so I go to field days, fairs, sale barns–I use those events to see what folks are saying and see if there is something I need to tackle. And if so, I say, ‘How do we need to do it?’ “
The road to here
Doran grew up on a farm south of Beaver in Boone County. She attended ISU to get a bachelor’s degree in home economics education. Her minor was in animal science, relative to the beef industry.
She accepted a teaching position at Edison Junior High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., where she taught home economics to students in grades seven through nine.
Following that she worked for 4-1/2 years as an Extension 4H Youth Coordinator in Bremer and Chickasaw counties in northeast Iowa, working with 4-H programming.
She left that position to finish up a major in animal science at ISU, then attended Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in that field.
Upon finishing, she found herself in Sandusky, Michigan,. (in the ‘thumb area’ of Michigan, as Doran said), where she accepted a two-county Extension livestock position. Because the area was surrounded on three sides by the lake, and because it was a big lake — it fell under the Coastal Water Act.
“I saw a lot of environmental pressure occurring in Michigan before we ever saw it happening to that degree in Iowa,” said Doran. “They were about three years ahead of where we wound up here in Iowa. They were extremely concerned about water quality.”
Doran said she also was exposed to various degrees of horticulture practices there and another side of agriculture, which included the growth and production of fruits, vegetables, landscaping plants, sod, and even spearmint, which she saw distilled for distribution to Wrigley’s.
“Whenever I’m in the grocery store I think about all those people,” she said. “They grow carrots like we grow corn.”
Doran found herself on a plane to Iowa in July 1993 to do an interview with ISU Extension and Outreach regarding a newly-created position called, beef feedlot specialist.
“I wanted to get back to my home state, and this position was in feedlot territory. My research I’d done at Oklahoma State was relative to feedlots,” said Doran.
She got the job and has spent the rest of her career in her county coverage area, which has grown from the two counties then to 17 counties today. In that time and in that area she said there were once 13 beef specialists, compared to the six that exist today.
“It’s a lot of area to cover, and I wish I could service people more often — although technology has helped with that. It’s not like it’s impossible to do, but it’s not like being one on one,” said Doran.
“Technology has changed (my job) so much and there is so much you can do with the internet and computers, but if you’re talking about a flooded field, seeing pictures of it is not like being out there with the producer.”
Doran holds steady with that theory as she talks about helping cattle feedlot owners design feedlots.
“Pictures are not the same as being there — you can’t see the lay of the land nearly as well — the topography, to actually see where they’re thinking of putting up a building, to get a good look at any water quality issues that might exist with that new feedlot, or (examine) feed quality. You can’t do everything digitally,” she said.
Doran said it’s difficult to get everywhere she needs to be, so she keeps a log of calls. If she sees a pattern developing or a topic that comes up repeatedly, she may decide to do a needs assessment, then form an informational event about it.
“When I first got here, there was a lot of pressure environmentally,” said Doran. “Those rules were changing rapidly, and the procedure processes were changing rapidly, too. I remember holding a lot of meetings (at the time) of the Iowa Open Feedlot Plan to help large feedlots (more than 1,000 head) get permitted, etc.”
She said she and others in extension have also educated owners of medium-sized cattle feedlots and done many trainings on water quality, manure management and monoslope barns. She was also part of taking a look at ethanol by-products as possible feedstuffs.
“I’ve helped with a lot of research on air quality of monoslope barns….” said Doran. “One of the projects was over a three-year period; we took measurements for two years, taking measurements on five different gasses every 15 seconds, doing it between two sets of barns. It was a huge project.”
Besides her focus on feedlot cattle, Doran has also spent plenty of time working with cow/calf producers, helping them understand nutritional and environmental needs.
“The clientele in northwest Iowa has a very strong ag base, between production ag and ag-business,” she said. “In the whole state of Iowa you don’t find that many elevators or infrastructure industries as you find here. Northwest Iowa is unique.”
Doran said her work in extension over the years has brought her a clearer vision on three key areas, including drought, flooding and economic crisis.
Especially economic crisis.
“I wish I could say it’s over, but I think we’re in the middle of it. Cattle prices this year are not what we saw two or three years ago,” she said. “Between the flooding and these tariffs, it really changes (projection) numbers. Models are not the be-all, end-all. For instance, the whole ag industry is trying to figure out preventative planting this year.”
Ethanol comes in
Doran said she has seen the ethanol industry change the beef industry because producers have changed their feeding strategies to include ethanol by-products.
She said new implants and pharmaceuticals have come about to, for instance, help create muscle during the late feeding period, and the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) has changed how producers raise their animals and how veterinarians watch over their customers. Non-antibiotic meat has come to the forefront for meat consumers, and the Beef Quality Assurance Program came about to promote best management practices in beef production.
“And now starting Jan. 1, 2020, if you’re a farmer or rancher or a professional (livestock) hauler you will need to be certified for transportation to ensure (safe animal handling),” said Doran. “The consumer is asking for it and the industry is answering.”
Doran said over the years fat cattle are getting heavier, due in part to the hovering lower cattle prices, and producers holding on to their cattle because of it.
“Some of that is relative to genetic traits, too,” she said, adding that some producers like to choose and grow cattle that will do well in marbling or create a certain size ribeye area.
She also said while cattle are heavier than they have been, more has been done to promote leaner meat production due to consumer demands.
She said if there is one void in the beef industry it’s the need to come up with a solid breakfast meat cut that would catch on.
Doran said she has also seen the industry change the color of cattle seen primarily in sales barns and fairs. She said they are mostly red or black. Black hides, she said, tend to be higher marbling and sell at a higher price than cattle of other colors.
“At the Northwest Iowa Beef Expo, there was a higher percentage of seed stock sold that was mostly black,” she said. “The grid markets have favored that.”
Doran said she enjoys her job because there is something different than the day before and she meets many people as she travels throughout her district.
“I have the best job–no two days are alike,” she said. “Agriculture is not stagnant by any means; we went from a drought in 2012 to massive flooding in 2018. It’s a constant challenge.”
Doran said she tries to live by the words of a sign that hangs in her office, a gift from an appreciative beef client. It reads, “Remember to ‘cownt’ your blessings.”
“You can look at the glass as half full or half empty … or overflowing,” she said.