Culpeper bull cow agriculture (copy)

A bull stands in a field on a Culpeper farm. The Virginia Cooperative Extension office in Culpeper is offering webinars for farmers and cattle producers.

Local talent serves nationally in organizations that matter to our agricultural industry, specifically beef cattle in this column. Last week, the Beef Improvement Federation held its annual meeting online over several days with talks and sponsor recognitions taking place as would be done at an in-person convention.

The local talent is Tommy Clark, the federation’s 2020 president and an active board member leading its plan to hold this annual meeting. The Culpeper native, an expert and lifelong cattle breeder, owns a cow-calf herd in Culpeper County.

Now for some background on the organization and its beef improvement efforts, which date back to its origins in Virginia and to the Beef Cattle Improvement Association. Readers will remember that the Culpeper Bull Test is sponsored by BCIA; more on that later.

Founded in 1968, the Beef Improvement Federation is dedicated to advancing and coordinating all segments of the beef industry. From the start, the BIF sought to connect science and industry to improve beef cattle genetics.

One of its first projects was to develop a way of standardizing all performance records across beef cattle breeds, both nationally and internationally. The result of the project is the modern-day Expected Progeny Differences system, a tool the beef industry relies heavily on today.

Continuing the tradition of using science to benefit producers, the BIF is now the capstone for developing programs for improving the efficiency, profitability and sustainability of beef production. The BIF three-leaf-clover logo symbolizes the link between industry, extension and research.

I have traveled with Tommy to two of the BIF conventions over the last 20 years, one in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and one in Lexington, Kentucky. Both experiences were well worth the time as new information and new relationships helped me gain an appreciation of the role of this science-based cattle organization.

This year, I attended online, still a rewarding and informative experience if you are looking for new information on cattle and why it will make a difference. “Genome” is one of the words common to these discussions.

Virginia has been in the lead in cattle improvement from the start. Artificial insemination began here in the east, in dairy cattle in Rocky Mount, and quickly expanded to beef cattle as its value was recognized by breeders.

Improving cattle starts with weights. Today, we take scales for granted, but in the beginning, scales were rare, so central installations were built to support this important measurement to improve cattle management.

In the 1950s when beef improvement was gaining traction in Virginia, the BCIA was formed by industry leaders seeking to make beef cattle better.

The remount station at Front Royal was one place that some of these management activities began. Planning meetings were held nearby in Winchester and in Charlottesville to start the emerging BCIA organization.

For 62 years, the BCIA bull test and sale has been held in Culpeper and our region has played a crucial role in changing agriculture.

With Tommy Clark’s service to BIF, we realize these changes continue. This year, BCIA held its first online sale at Wytheville.

Carl C. Stafford is the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s senior agent in Culpeper County. Write him at

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