Ted Cunningham: Representing the Beef Industry Through Progressive Involvement and Advocacy

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“Our farm is a family affair,” said Ted Cunningham, who operates a multi-faceted beef farm with his wife, Ashlee, and three children, near Salem in #Agri-Ready Designated Dent County. Agriculture runs deep through multiple generations on both sides of his family, but Ted is the first generation of his family to farm in Missouri. The Cunninghams are dedicated to advocating for the beef industry and devoted to developing the youth of agriculture as volunteers and with their children, ages 17, 14, and 9, who are members of 4-H and FFA. This year Ted is serving agriculture on a new field as the beef representative for the 2024 Farm Team for the Race to the Plate campaign with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ted grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm in southern Illinois. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Illinois, Ted relocated to Missouri in 2003 to begin a 15-year career as a livestock specialist for MU Extension. “My wife and I wanted land, and we needed a way to pay for it,” Ted recalled. In 2009, he and Ashlee purchased their first 145 acres that would become the foundation of their beef operation, Cunningham Livestock. The rugged terrain of the Ozarks provides a great place to raise beef on grass, and Ted knew that cattle would be a wise investment that would pay for their land and make it possible to expand their farm. Ted began custom grazing, feeding and management of beef cattle. Ashlee contributed her skills as a veterinarian both on and off the farm. 

“I believe that beef is the healthy protein of choice,” Ted shared, describing his motivation to serve as a board member of the Missouri Beef Industry Council. Ted is a producer member of the elected council that monitors the growth of the Beef Check Off program and guides how the funds are spent. Throughout 2024 he is getting a unique opportunity to represent Missouri beef producers on the Farm Team for the Race to the Plate campaign partnership with the St. Louis Cardinals. Ted is sharing his passion for beef during ads on Cardinals Radio Network and through in-stadium videos featuring the family and Cardinal’s mascot Fred Bird working on the farm. 

 “Being an advocate as part of the Farm Team has taken me out of my comfort zone and has been a lot of fun. I believe in the Race to the Plate campaign because it is a good opportunity for consumers to see that real families are growing the beef on their plates,” Ted said. “I look forward to my family participating together in Race to the Plate activities this summer.”

Ted has worked as a manager for New Day Genetics, a progressive seedstock operation that specializes in producing bulls and for C-Lock, Inc., a smart agriculture technology company that has developed tools for the measurement of emissions and individual animal feed intake control. These two opportunities broadened his animal science and research experience across the U.S. and internationally. 

Today, Cunningham Livestock encompasses 600 acres. The family operation develops bulls for New Day Genetics, backgrounds more than 1,000 steers each year, and custom grazes cattle for other cattlemen. One key to success for Ted’s beef enterprise is good land stewardship. Ted’s cattle rely heavily on forages; the family manages an extensive rotational grazing plan across the farm to protect soil, water, and plants. Ted is also leveraging technology to make the farm more efficient. C-Lock branded SmartFeed bunks and a SmartScale system installed in Ted’s feeding facility record consumption rates and water intake for each animal. This information is translated into feed and animal growth efficiency data. Ted can see which animals are growing most efficiently so he can focus on selecting for and marketing animals with the most efficient genetics. 

Ted serves as a member of the advisory committee for the farm located at University of Missouri Wurdack Extension and Education Center. Ashlee is the local 4-H club leader, and the family is heavily involved in FFA projects for the kids. The kids enjoy showing cattle at regional and state fairs; they have grown a small cow herd from their past projects. The Cunninghams are active members of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Salem and the Dent-Phelps Cattlemen’s Association. They are members of Missouri Farm Bureau, and Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, both partners of Missouri Farmers Care.