2020 AWA Progress Report

MAY 4, 2020 AWA PROGRESS REPORT - Pete Eshelman, President

“I’ve been accused of being a positive person, you be the judge.”  - Pete

As President, and on behalf of your Board, Executive Director, and Staff, I am pleased to provide you with this May 4, 2020 Progress Report.

First, I must make a confession. Recently I was accused of being a “positive person”.  The accusation went something like this, “Pete, with the volatility in pricing for seedstock and beef, the global pandemic, and a stressed food supply chain, what is there to be positive about?”  Like a boxer, this hit me in the jaw and knocked me down, but after reflection I stood back up and can say with conviction, I am super positive about the AWA and the Wagyu breed.

I have written this Progress Report in bullet point form and over the next several weeks, Executive Director, Robert Williams, Ph.D. will be providing more detail on each of these initiatives and accomplishments. 

Here’s why I am positive - our May 4, 2020 Progress Report. 

1. AWA Wagyu Performance Program – I am pleased to report that the AWA Performance Program is solidly in place. This program is designed to provide those members participating in the Complete Animal Recording (CAR) program with Expected Progeny Differences (EPD) on qualifying cattle. This program has 5 pillars.

• Performance Guidelines – On April 14, the AWA Board reviewed and unanimously approved the performance guidelines which will provide a performance platform for a genetic evaluation on traits from birth to carcass.  These guidelines will be posted on the AWA website within the next week..
• Genetic Evaluation Service Provider – After considerable review on April 30, the AWA Board unanimously approved the University of Georgia to provide the AWA with genetic evaluation services. The University of Georgia was chosen from among five proposals from genetic evaluation service entities because of their depth of knowledge, resources, and their ability to customize genetic evaluations for the AWA, particularly with respect to carcass data.

The first evaluation from the University of Georgia, regarding birth weight, weaning weight, maternal weaning weight (milk) will be completed by August and released to the membership September 1, 2020. 
Research at the University of Georgia has focused on genetic evaluation methodology and computational strategies that improve livestock production and sustainability. The University of Georgia, specifically Dr. Ignacy Misztal, pioneered single-step GBLUP - a method to consider genomic, pedigree and phenotypic information jointly; this method has become the standard in the field. Furthermore, software programs developed has been used by researchers in at least 50 countries and have become the backbone for the genetic evaluation programs of some of the largest animal genetics companies and breed associations in the world.
• 50K Genotype – Last September the AWA Board of Directors voted to require a 50K genotype to register all Purebred and Fullblood animals.  This new rule went into effect on January 1, 2020 and will provide a foundation for genetic evaluations with more accuracy, especially for the selection of younger herd replacements.  Research has shown this improved accuracy enhances genetic selection by allowing for quicker genetic progress from one generation to the next.  The AWA will be providing four evaluations annually. 
• Data Collection - Now that the complete Performance Program is in place, the AWA will conduct an aggressive campaign to collect data from members.   It’s an important concept to understand that our genetic evaluation accuracy relies on the quantity and quality of data reported by producers. The guidelines were written with this in mind to ensure the most accurate data will be collected and reported.  Accurate data collection will expedite the computation and accuracy of EPD moving forward.
• Complete Animal Recording (CAR) – Digital beef is the structure and foundation of the AWA data collection efforts.  As genetic evaluations are completed, EPD will be loaded in each animal’s profile providing you with the latest and most accurate genetic evaluation of the Wagyu population in North America!

The AWA will be providing  additional information regarding this program to the membership over the summer.  Please direct any questions you may have to the AWA Executive Director, Robert Williams, Ph.D. as we launch the complete AWA Wagyu Performance Program.

2.  2020/2021 AGM – The AWA Board of Directors, on April 14, 2020 made the difficult decision to cancel the September 2020 AWA Conference in Fort Collins, CO.  because of the uncertainty of the pandemic and travel restrictions.

We were faced with a $70,000 cancelation fee but through negotiations with the Hilton Hotel we were able to cancel the 2020 Convention with no penalty. We thank the Hilton for working with us in these difficult times.
Taking a lesson from the recent NFL Draft which conducted the draft very successfully, virtually, we will be holding our 2020 Conference and AGM virtually on September 24-26, 2020.   Mark these dates on your calendar.  This virtual Conference and AGM will be packed with fantastic educational and business presentations. The Office will be providing additional information for this virtual event by June 1 and through the summer months.

In addition, the 2021 AWA Annual Conference and AGM will take place in Fort Collins, CO at the Hilton working in conjunction with the excellent faculty and staff of the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. Mark your calendar for September 23-25, 2021!

3.  International Commerce   -   In recognition of the importance of creating opportunities for members to trade internationally, on March 13, 2020, the AWA and the Australian Wagyu Association finalized an agreement to expedite commerce between our two countries.  We thank our Australian friends for their cooperation in finalizing this agreement.  The structure of this agreement creates a template for working with other international Wagyu Associations.  Details of this agreement are reflected in the communication to the membership on March 26, 2020 from Executive Director Robert Williams, Ph.D. and are also available on the website. 

In addition, the AWA Board created a more defined policy on how to register international animals that had holes in their pedigrees.  On March 25, 2020 the AWA Board of Directors approved this detailed policy on how to handle these situations which will benefit buyers and sellers.  Please see March 27, 2020 communication from Executive Director Robert Williams, Ph.D. to the membership this is also available on the website.

4.  Office Status - The AWA office is fully operational with five employees.  Due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the office is operating remotely with a current ban on any travel.  Additional hardware and software has been purchased to allow staff to operate more effectively remotely, and new software security has been installed.  Office service continues to operate with the goal of providing continued excellent service. In the first 4 months of 2020, the office has remained busy processing members’ work.  In fact transfers are on a record pace with a 48% increase over the same period of time last year! 

5.  Cattle Industry Involvement - In 2019, your Board committed to becoming a more active participant in the cattle industry. Executive Director Robert Williams, Ph.D. joined us July 1, 2019 and with his 30 years of experience in the industry, the AWA was able to realize its goal of being an active industry participant.

To put this in perspective, at the beginning of 2019, the AWA was a member of only one industry association, the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF).  Today the AWA is a member of 6 industry organizations:
- Affiliate member of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA)
- National Pedigree Livestock Council (NPLC)
- U.S. Beef Breeds Council
- Ultrasound Guidelines Council (UGC)
- United States Livestock and Genetics Association (USLGE)
- Beef Improvement Federation (BIF)

The benefits of membership in these organizations allow the AWA to have a “seat at the table.” These memberships help better position the AWA to promote Wagyu in the U.S. cattle industry and globally.  In addition, these memberships provide valuable networking opportunities which will further enable us to drive the message and prominence of the AWA and the Wagyu Breed.

6.  Membership Status – In spite of the current challenging business environment, you will be pleased to note that the AWA membership remains strong and growing.  New membership applications are outpacing 2019 with a 22% increase over the first four months of 2020. This brings promise that 2020 will see a new record for membership! Congratulations to all members and all new members.  Growth is the life blood of any business.

7.  Marketing - Marketing initiatives are in progress.  Here is what is in the pipeline, which we hope to implement by this year’s Conference & AGM. 

• Certified Wagyu Beef Program – We are working closely with the USDA to develop a voluntary USDA Certified Wagyu beef program.
• Website – We are interviewing companies to select the best partner to help us update and expand our website and social media platforms.
• Wagyu Sales Portal – As Board Members and Staff, we receive an overwhelming number of inquiries from consumers, breeders, and media on where to buy quality Wagyu.  With a new website, we plan to develop a portal providing a reference on where to buy Wagyu for consumers and breeders.  This AWA portal will feature :

o Farms/Ranches that offer Wagyu beef direct to consumers
o Restaurants that serve Wagyu beef
o Retailers that sell Wagyu beef
o Breeders that have Wagyu seedstock for sale.

Participants will pay a subscription fee to be featured.  This AWA Sales Portal will be designed to drive direct sales to AWA participants from consumers and breeders.  Subscription fees will also provide a new revenue stream for the AWA.  It’s a win-win!

8.  Strategic Plan Update  -  The AWA’s 5 Year Strategic Plan 2020-2025, established by your Board of Directors for the first time last year, will be updated by the Board of Directors after reviewing recommendations from the Strategic Planning Committee. The Strategic Planning Committee includes: Executive Director Robert Williams, Ph.D., past President Weldon Mahan, current President Pete Eshelman and 2 AWA members.  Members Dale Moore and Congressman Marlin Stutzman have both volunteered their time and expertise to this committee. Annual updates are important to keep the AWA’s Strategic Plan current as a sound road map for the future. Updates to the plan will be presented during our virtual Conference and AGM September 2020.

9.  Board Commitment – Your voluntary Board and Staff continue to work very hard. During 2020 we have had 13 Board conference calls since January, lasting between 1 to 3 hours each. That’s an accumulated 130 plus hours your board members have spent on conference calls. That’s not including the many hours invested in preparing for the meetings and other association initiatives. All Board Meeting minutes are available on the AWA website.

John Hall has missed some board conference calls during the first quarter this year because of his military duty.  Last year his attendance was impeccable.  We keep John briefed, and we totally support and thank him for his service to our country.

If you have any suggestions or ideas, the door is always open and as always, we welcome your input.  Our mission is simple; by harnessing the combined strength of the Board, Staff, and Membership, we will drive the AWA and the Wagyu breed forward with the goal of realizing Wagyu’s potential in the U.S. and the World.

On a personal note, when people ask me what it is like being President of the AWA, my response is, “not paid, overworked and under-appreciated.”  This usually gets a chuckle but seriously, with this great Board and Staff, we are 100% committed to progress.  You can count on us! 


Pete Eshelman
AWA President