by IBBA Assistant to the Executive Vice President Yvonne “Bonnie” Ramirez

All too often agriculture is taken for granted and is under a  close microscope by critics. The beef industry has and continues to undergo scrutiny for several reasons. Thankfully, our industry has strong voices that are forces to be reckoned with. These ambassadors lobby for the beef industry. They go to bat against some of our toughest critics; they use their passion to voice their opinions and educate the non-beef minded society.

Our very own Kelley Sullivan, co-owner of Santa Rosa Ranch, has taken the beef industry by storm by using her voice to be an advocate for agriculture. Santa Rosa Ranch proudly breeds Brangus and Ultrablack cattle and has two locations in Crockett and Navasota, Texas.

Santa Rosa Ranch is the largest Brangus producer in the IBBA (see page 26).

“Our family has been in the commercial cattle business for over 100 years,” Sullivan said. She is originally from Galveston, where she grew up running cattle along the coastal bend with her family.

In 2003, they purchased their place in Navasota and started with their seedstock business, which was comprised of Brahman and Angus genetics. In 2005, they became heavily involved with the Brangus breed. “We had the opportunity to acquire some really good Brangus genetics and the development of our Brangus herd took off,” Sullivan mentioned. In 2007, the Sullivans expanded from their Navasota ranch into their Crocket location. “We call it River Ranch,” Sullivan commented.

“Five years ago, in 2012, we took over the historic Rattlesnake Ranch/7J Stock Farm, which took our operation in a completely new direction, allowing us to rapidly expand our operation,” Sullivan remarked.

“Our belief is that the Brangus breed offers an incredible opportunity not only for seedstock producers, but for the commercial side as well. Our breed has such value on both the male and female side,” Sullivan commented. “There is consistently a high demand for Brangus bulls. We have focused on the carcass traits of the cattle we produce, and our customers return for our feeder steers and heifers due to their consistent performance in the feedlot.”

Sullivan raves about Brangus females saying, “From a breed perspective, you cannot go wrong with a Brangus female! Demand for females is so high, regardless of what kind of operation you have – commercial or seedstock,” she said. “As a testament to the Brangus female, we have breeders from other breeds who use Brangus females as their recip herd. Maternal traits of Brangus females are hard to beat anywhere in the industry, and you just can’t beat a Brangus female. Period.”

Ranchwork, without a doubt, is a full-time, year-round job, and it certainly keeps Kelley busy. But, she doesn’t turn away opportunities to promote agriculture and our beef cattle industry. Kelley is affiliated with several prominent beef groups. Not only is she a member of several associations, she also holds several leadership positions.

Sullivan, who is a 1992 graduate of Texas A&M University, majored in communications and minored in marketing, journalism, and animal science. As they say, “knowledge is power,” Kelley never stopped learning. She later pursued her further education at the Texas Christian University (TCU) Ranch Management Program and graduated in the spring of 2012. Kelley was part of the graduating class of the thirteeth Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service’s Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership (TALL) program.

Sullivan currently serves on the board of directors for the Texas Beef Council, Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), and the Federation of State Beef Councils, to name only a few of Sullivan’s leadership roles.

In the spring of 2018, she will take the reins as the chairwoman of the TSCRA’s Association Promotion (Membership) Committee. Kelley is, also, a member of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association International Committee, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Committee, where she is responsible for the International Livestock Congress, the International Stockmen’s Education Foundation, and International Brangus Breeders Association’s international and promotions committees.

“It’s hard to say ‘no’ when it comes to the beef industry. I want to be helpful and effective where I can,” Kelley said about her involvement with several groups. Staying true to her alma mater, Kelley is, also, part of the Animal Science Advisory Council at Texas A&M University.

Kelley has her hands full, not only with the operations of Santa Rosa Ranch, but with her civic involvement as well. She has made sure that wherever she goes and whatever she does, she is a voice for agriculture. “My advocacy for the beef industry initially resulted from my involvement in the TCU program,” she said. Sullivan mentioned that her experience attending the program opened her eyes to the opportunities that our industry has on a global perspective. The TALL program further encouraged Kelley to be a voice. “When I became a member of the TALL program, it demonstrated the impact that agriculture, in general, has in the global market place,” Kelley passionately stated. Sullivan recollects that those two programs really inspired her to be a voice for agriculture. “I advocate for what we do and what we produce. We produce the food that feeds the world!”

Kelley reiterated that most people don’t always appreciate the impact of agriculture because we live in a more urban society. “I really try to provide as much insight as I can about what I do on a daily basis,” Kelley added. “There are so many people who don’t know anyone in agriculture. I open myself up to anyone who wants information [about agriculture and the beef industry].”

“You wouldn’t believe some of the questions I get! But, people don’t know because they have not been exposed to our industry. So, it is our responsibility to engage and educate people that are not like us,” Kelley said. “When we do, then they develop an appreciation for what we do.”

Kelley went on to advise beef producers not to be afraid to have a conversation with people who live an urban environment. She feels passionately that we have a responsibility to educate them. “If we don’t provide the facts about our industry, how else are they ever going to know appropriate and accurate information about what we do?” Kelley proclaimed, “We must constantly be advocates for what we do. I feel like it’s my mission and responsibility, as a producer, to make myself available to those people. I really do!”

This past May, Kelley was invited to participate in a unique trade mission to Japan and South Korea, the two largest U.S. beef trade partners in the world. “It offered me a glimpse to see where my product is going and meet our customers – the consumers of U.S. beef in Asia. Although Santa Rosa Ranch is a seedstock operation, at the end of the day, we are all beef producers,” Kelley said. “By being able to visit those two countries, I was able to witness, first-hand, how my product is being received. It was so gratifying.” Sullivan said that it was encouraging to see how much the Japanese and Koreans love U.S. beef. She, also, mentioned that they love being able to meet the cattle producer and know who is actually raising the beef that they eat.

Kelley takes her responsibility to educate non-agriculture-minded individuals about our industry very seriously and to heart. She took her personal duty to another level when she testified in front of the U.S. Congress House Ways and Means Committee last month. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association asked her, as a beef producer, to testify to Congress about the need to pursue free trade as a priority for our industry. “I was honored to participate, but so gratified to see the enthusiasm that the committee had for pursuing these trade agreements based on my first-hand account,” Kelley commented.

Sullivan has issued a call-to-action for all producers: “I encourage any beef producer to contact their congressmen and their senators about the importance of pursuing free trade agreements so that we have free-market access for U.S. beef.”

With voices like Kelley Sullivan’s, the beef industry is well-represented. Keep being an agricultural ambassador and being a strong voice for the cattle industry, Kelley! Cattlemen: always remember that we feed the world, so make sure you are vigilant in doing your part to feed the world with your voice for agriculture! Knowledge is power; make your voice heard and educate the world!