Mesut Cetin has always been clear about his dreams and driven to follow them.
Though he grew up in a city outside Istanbul, he spent time in rural areas with his grandparents, who were involved in agriculture. “Animals were always my passion,” he said. “So I pursued my dream and became a veterinarian.”
But the reality of paying off his school debt – he also holds a doctorate in avian pathology – prompted him to begin working for international pharmaceutical companies. Upon returning home to Turkey in 2001, however, he realized he missed interacting with animals. He also discovered that his country’s ruminant industry was operating inefficiently.
In response, he abandoned his lucrative pharmaceutical career and started a dairy, acting against the advice of family and friends.
“They were right about it, and within one and a half years I bankrupted the operation,” he recalled. But it didn’t stop me. I looked for another opportunity, as I was persistent to proceed with farming. I found that beef is actually the other deficit factor in the country. We are importing huge amounts from Latin America, Australia and other countries with excess cattle. So I decided to go into the beef industry and that was the start of my farming activities.”
Cetin now manages roughly 30,000 head of cattle at facilities in Turkey, Uruguay, Estonia and the US state of Wyoming. He operates both cow-calf operations and feed yards to produce finished beef. To keep the animals fed, he leases about 15,000 acres in Turkey, where he grows barley, rye grass, oats, alfalfa and corn for silage. He also imports corn from the US, Brazil and Ukraine, and buys barley locally.
“Right now we have like a one-stop operation, starting from the calf, raising them and finishing them with the feed that we are producing ourselves,” he explained. “That gives us a lot of control for consistency and traceability issues.”
As an animal lover who rescues stray dogs, Cetin is deeply committed to the welfare of his cattle. “People need to understand we provide 20 square meters per head,” he said, noting that some Manhattan residents live in similarly sized quarters. “We are really taking good care of the animals, and producing nice fresh food for them, and there is water always available for them.”
The cattle even have access to a back scratcher that makes them feel good and results in a 10 to 15 percent increase in red meat or milk production. “They’re like all animals,” he noted. “They like to be cared for.”
While developing his farming and cattle business, Cetin came to realize that there will be not enough food for 2050 if we continue to grow with the same methods and the same techniques that we are using at the moment.
He began conducting scientific research into the issue of increasing agricultural productivity and learned that biotechnology offered tools for controlling insect damage, improving yields and reducing fertilizer use. “These are all things that can help you produce a better crop,” he said.
In an effort to spread the word about the need to boost food production, Cetin joined the Global Farmers Network and has been advocating for biotech and agriculture for the past six years. His message to the public is simple: “Please try to communicate with the farmers if you’re really wondering what we’re doing. We are taking very good care of our animals, and we would never want you to eat anything that our own families aren’t eating.”
Like farmers across the planet, Cetin faces the challenges of unpredictable rainfall and a shortage of labor. He also has difficulty finding sufficient land to farm efficiently because parcels in Turkey tend to be small and disconnected.
“It is stressful,” he acknowledged. But Cetin finds ample reward.
“Every day I wake up with the same passion,” he said. “I want to continue feeding the world. We farmers are only two to three percent of the population, but we are feeding everyone. This is a big responsibility that I feel, and that passion keeps me going.”
Photo of Mesut Cetin by Robert Hazen