Board Chairman Gordon Hodges has been an active member of the Simmental community for decades. He was elected to the ASA Board of Trustees for the first time in 1990, serving two terms, then was re-elected for two additional terms in 2014. He has been breeding Simmental cattle since 1970 and joined the ASA in 1974 under the membership of Pineview Farms. For much of that time, he marketed cattle through the Optimal Beef Genetics Sale, a partnership with lifelong friend, Frank Bell. For the past five years, his family’s 60-head SimAngus™ and Simmental seedstock herd have operated in a management partnership with Bradley Gibbs, Ranburne, Alabama.
Hodges pinpoints his passion for the cattle industry with his interest in genetic selection of cattle and improvement. Following his desire to make an impact in genetic improvement for future cattle generations, Hodges has served since 2006 as Genetic and Marketing Manager for Gibbs Farms, a SimAngus and Simmental operation of 800 cows.
As a sales manager in his earlier years, Hodges operated Virginia-Carolina Livestock Service as a division of Virginia-Carolina Livestock Market, which was owned by his parents, Jimmy and Mary Hodges, Danville, Virginia. He also served as an officer in the North Carolina Simmental Association, North Carolina Angus Association, is former Chairman of the ASA Breed Improvement Committee, and served on the steering committee of the FOCUS 2000 Conference. He also served on the Board during the instrumental development and implementation of changing the ASA genetic evaluation from a single-breed base to a multi-breed base in 1996. Hodges holds a B.S. in Animal Science and Agricultural Education from North Carolina State University (NCSU). It was at NCSU where he met his wife, Melissa, who has worked for 40 years as a district loan supervisor for the USDA Farm Service Agency. They currently reside at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina.
They are the parents of two grown children, Spencer and Juliana. Their oldest child, Spencer, 32, is the fishing tackle and marine buyer for two Neuse Sport Shop locations. He and his wife, Elizabeth, are the parents of two-year-old Sloane. Juliana, 28, is working on her doctorate in nursing at the University of Alabama – Birmingham, working fulltime as a nursing coordinator for two Birmingham clinics, and teaches a medical assistant certification program for single mothers in cooperation with Jackson State University.
ASA Board Chairman Gordon Hodges remarks on programs and key issues facing the Board of Trustees.
With Emme Troendle
Troendle: What were your thoughts as you assumed this leadership post?
Hodges: Very simple, to follow the Strategic Plans of the ASA in an effort to improve and expand membership services, as well as increase market share for SimGenetics in the beef cattle industry.
Troendle: During your term as Board Chairman, are there any major actions you would like to see accomplished?
Hodges: I would like to continue placing emphasis on new and improved computer programming that will make services like DNA testing and animal registration easier and faster for membership, as well as staff. I would also like to continue progress with bringing parent verification in-house, which will provide long-term safety of our animal pedigree records and provide needed independence in our DNA testing for the future. Most importantly, I want to place a strong emphasis on expanding IGS [International Genetic Solutions] services to new customers, especially the growth into the commercial cattle industry through Total Herd Enrollment Commercial Options.
Troendle: How important is it to have diversity on the Board?
Hodges: A diverse background of ASA Trustees makes for a very successful Board as long as all the diversity comes together and works together for the overall improvement and expansion of ASA member services and market share in the industry. The only time diversity can ever be negative is in the event that a Trustee comes on the Board with self-serving interest for one specific area of our membership or industry. For success, it is critical that all Trustees bring diverse thoughts, experience, and expertise together in a unified approach to making the ASA better when they depart the Board than when they came on.
Troendle: How do you as Board Chairman encourage all Trustees, including newly-elected ones, to become active participants in the decision-making process?
Hodges: Involve them actively from day one. My goal is to encourage members to become involved in ASA committee activity prior to becoming a Trustee. When members attend the ASA Committee meetings at the Annual Meeting, the spring meeting in Bozeman, and the Fall Focus meeting, this prepares them to become a better Trustee, one who already has experience and is ready to jump right in immediately.
Troendle: You have seen International Genetics Solutions (IGS) take root. How would you assess the effectiveness and scope of that entity?
Hodges: IGS was built on the concept of collaborative efforts and cutting edge science. The magnitude of success can be unlimited when you combine an extensive collaboration of breed associations with the best science available in the industry. None of the programs like the IGS Multi-breed Genetic Evaluation powered by BOLT, IGS Feeder Profit Calculator™, or IGS Youth Leadership Summit, would be successful without massive collaboration. I feel significant growth of ASA will be through IGS as nontraditional services are offered not only to our membership but to our membership’s customers.
Troendle: What has been the effect of Total Herd Enrollment (THE)?
Hodges: Short term, THE has served to improve cow herd records; long term it will serve to improve our Stay EPD and $API index, plus makes it possible to develop future EPDs such as Heifer Pregnancy or any other type of reproductive or production efficiency EPDs and index values.
Troendle: In your opinion, how impactful has ASA’s Carcass Merit Program (CMP) been in changing the perception of SimGenetics? How has it changed our breed?
Hodges: I feel the direct impact has been minimal, yet existed. We were able to glean some info that was usable in positive industry promotion, but the significant positive impact came by the program showing us where we excelled and where we failed, then giving us a roadmap of genetics that could lead us in the right direction of improving carcass traits. In my opinion, the ASA CMP has played — and will continue to play — a giant role in identifying carcass genetics that can improve SimGenetics, but it can only happen if we use the tool and believe in the results.
Troendle: What will the Carcass Expansion Project accomplish?
Hodges: The Carcass Expansion Project will broaden the genetic base of animals that have genomics with carcass data. We will now be able to collect actual carcass data and genomics from good contemporary groups of animals that have pedigrees well beyond those found in the CMP alone, improving the accuracy of genomic prediction for carcass traits in pedigrees that are not present in the CMP. The Carcass Expansion Project will do exactly what its name implies: Expand improved carcass trait genomic prediction throughout the industry.
Troendle: How has ASA’s Progress Through Performance (PTP) program contributed to breed improvement?
Hodges: I was actually on the Board in the early 1990s when the PTP program was established. It was the ASA Board’s idea that making EPDs available to the judge and the spectators at shows in the short term would result in education about the data and long-term place emphasis on breeding show cattle with an improved genetic prediction (better EPDs). After 25 years in existence, I feel confident show cattle have improved greatly, but I have mixed feelings as to whether the PTP concept has had any positive results on genetic prediction improvement, at least the positive results that were perceived at the time the program was established. Yes, I feel our show cattle are much better today than they were 25 years ago, but did the PTP program help with those improvements? I don’t know. I am sure some members feel the answer is yes and some feel the answer is no. In my opinion, the cattle appear to be better, but I am disappointed in the fact their EPDs have not really improved. Compared to 25 years ago, the show ring now selects for less frame size, more body mass, and has even made improvements in structural soundness selection, so I think you can say that our show cattle have improved, but I still don’t know that the PTP program had any impact.
Troendle: What about the recently established Ring of Champions?
Hodges: The Ring of Champions is a great promotional program that adds excitement to the show ring, a program that I feel is great, but from a promotional standpoint, I don’t feel it has an impact on breed improvement. Programs that help with breed promotion are great, but breed promotion and breed improvement are two different things.
Troendle: How has the implementation of DNA markers changed the beef industry? Cow Herd DNA Roundup (CHR)?
Hodges: DNA markers and the role of DNA in genetic prediction has sped up genetic advancement of each generation by about two years, and in many cases has increased the accuracy of genetic prediction in a young calf beyond where it once would have been as a two-year-old, especially in females.
When you compare how many genomic records we had on cows prior to the launch of the Cow Herd DNA Roundup program and the rate of increase each year, then simple math tells you that the CHR in one year fast-forwarded us 10-plus years and, by the time its total impact is finished, probably more like fast-forwarding 20 years. Yes, the CHR had an enormous impact on genomic prediction accuracy of cow traits.
Troendle: Genetic defects are a major issue of discussion in the beef industry. How would you assess ASA’s approach to this subject?
Hodges: I would argue that genetic defects are not a major issue of discussion in the beef industry today because breed organizations like the ASA took an aggressive, yet wise approach to identifying and eradicating the incidence of genetic defects within their breeds. We continue to closely monitor the possibility of genetic defects entering our population from other breeds. As little as five years ago there was still a need for a huge volume of genetic defect testing. Due to testing and properly identifying carrier pedigrees, there is very little genetic defect testing needed by members today. The ASA still closely monitors heavily-used sires, as well as sires that go through the Carcass Merit Program in an effort to prevent surprises in the future.
Troendle: What benefits do the all-purpose index ($API) and terminal index ($TI) provide?
Hodges: Unfortunately, the answer to this question will vary greatly depending on who you ask. Some members feel there are no benefits and others feel the benefits are so strong they place total genetic selection on one index. Personally, I feel both opinions and approaches are wrong. I feel both indexes are valuable tools for setting thresholds of genetic acceptance. By using the indexes in this way, a member can quickly narrow down a large population of animals to the ones that are above their established acceptable threshold, then use desired EPDs to further refine their genetic search based on their immediate needs, such as calving ease, growth, and/or carcass traits.
Troendle: What is the impact of the Educational Promotion of ASA’s Services and Programs?
Hodges: The campaign in recent years to place more promotion and awareness on the services and programs offered by the ASA has been a giant help in the area of member awareness, as well as widespread industry awareness. The old concept of, “If you build it, they will come,” may work in movies, but not the real world. When you have great services and programs you still need great promotion so that the industry knows what you have to offer. I feel the ASA has been a cutting-edge leader in the industry for services and programs for many years, but we didn’t excel in promotion. I think we have acknowledged that flaw and are working aggressively to correct it.
Troendle: What is your assessment of ASA’s youth program?
Hodges: Absolutely, without question, the best youth program of any breed association. Some members measure success by how many heifers can be assembled in a barn at a junior event. I do not feel that is a true measurement of a successful youth breed event. I feel success is measured by how many youths are involved and how many different competitions and events they participate in that provide training for their future success in careers and life in general. I am very excited that our youth have collaborated with other youth breed associations with the establishment of the IGS Youth Leadership Summit. This bold move has set precedence for many youth multi-breed ventures in the future.
Troendle: How vital are strong state associations to the overall welfare of SimGenetics?
Hodges: Strong state associations can play an enormous role in the promotion of SimGenetics, provided they make the effort and provided they exist. I do not feel they are “vital” because many states do not even have an active state association. I wish more states had strong, active state associations so they could take advantage of the ASA Cost Share program. This greatly benefits in the promotion of our breed in local and state areas.
Troendle: How important is it for ASA members to be involved in the decision-making process, through voting and attendance at local, state, regional and national meetings?
Hodges: Member involvement is extremely important. Our ASA Board of Trustees is a policy board, so it governs all policy of the Association, and our entire membership has the opportunity to vote for Trustees. All membership has the privilege to vote, determining who serves on the Board, yet only a tiny percentage of the membership actually votes. All Board meetings and committee meetings are open to the public, so all members have an opportunity to sit in on Board Meetings and even take part in committee meetings, yet very few members attend ASA meetings. As for our ASA Annual National Meeting, it has been many years since we had more than 10 members attend excluding Trustees. It would greatly improve member knowledge if members participated in ASA meetings. Member participation does a great job preparing a future Trustee. Our Board made the decision to broadcast our 2019 Annual Meeting live online, even making it possible for online viewers to interact in conversation. Our hope was to generate more member involvement, but we only had two members log into the meeting online and only had six members attend the meeting in person, so, even with live online coverage, our 2019 Annual Meeting had less than 10 members in attendance.
Troendle: During this time where people are relying more and more on the Internet and electronic communication, what do you perceive as the future for ASA’s Publication?
Hodges: I do not know. This has been a primary discussion of the ASA Publication Board and staff for several years and we simply do not have the answer. Electronic social media seems to be the primary carrier for all types of discussion, some fact, some not, but social media is not effective for advertising because of host site restrictions against any type of advertising or marketing. Numerous companies and breed associations have established fantastic websites and online marketing programs but they can’t be effective unless viewers see and use them.
Troendle: What are the historic and current strengths of this organization and our cattle?
Hodges: The historic and current strengths of this organization “is” the cattle. We have a versatile breed that excels in numerous highly economically-valuable traits and our breed is highly complementary to the British breed that is the most populous breed in North America. Our cattle have been the strength that has allowed us to gain huge market share in the North American beef industry over the past decade. As members, if we listen to our commercial industry customers, and continue to improve our cattle in ways to better serve the commercial cattle industry, then we will continue to thrive and grow. If we as members fail to do just that, then our cattle will soon fail also. Both those statements have proven to be true in the history of our breed. Let’s all work hard to make history, not repeat itself.