“Learn the good things, forget the bad things.” That’s 99-year-old John Matsushima’s advice for living a good life.
Japanese-American heritage did not always make it easy, but you won’t often hear him talk about it. Instead, he focuses on the people he’s worked with—colleagues, peers and graduate students—as the secret to his success. This year’s Feeding Quality Forum Industry Achievement Award is one of many accolades in the last decade. What he’s provided to the industry is incalculable, the impact on lives immeasurable.
His bachelor’s and master’s from Colorado State University were made possible by scholarships won through 4-H and FFA involvement. While conducting research for his doctorate at the University of Nebraska, Matsushima caught the attention of the Monfort family when he thought up one of the biggest contributions to the feeding industry to date: the steam corn flaker.
The idea sparked one morning while eating breakfast cereal. Matsushima knew how cattle were unique and by changing the starch composition through steam flaking and then pressing the corn, rumen bacteria had easier access to nutrients.
“By improving the feed efficiency, you can trace this back to the economy,” Matsushima says. “So today, the consumer can buy their beef almost 10% cheaper than before.”
He soon returned to Colorado State, where he taught and researched even more, eventually being named a professor emeritus. Matsushima made everything better for feedyard cattle, from curtailing foot rot with extended concrete aprons at bunks to creating a baked “feed grade” urea, and incorporating higher roughage to grain rations. The National Western Stock Show (NWSS) Fed Beef Contest was born from his discovery that prolonged time on feed led to a surplus of fat on beef carcasses. He remained superintendent for 20 years and NWSS named him the 2013 Citizen of the West.
His work reaches far beyond the States.
Matsushima helped develop the first feedyard in Africa and consulted in countries like Germany, Australia and China. But perhaps his biggest international acclaim was in Japan. Matsushima knew Japan cut their carcasses between the 5th and 6th rib, where marbling started from the front, so he provided a little bit of advice. “I told them, ‘Well, if you buy carcasses from the U.S., you would be paying for the carcasses on the basis of the 12th and 13th rib, so when they get to Japan, you would find that U.S. Choice carcasses would probably grade a little higher.’ That would be a profit for the Japanese distributors.”
Today, beef exports to Japan average more than $2 billion a year. For his efforts over time, the U.S. scientist received the Japanese Emperor award in 2009 at its highest level, the Emperor Citation.
While these accomplishments and their industry impacts are vast, Matsushima is more proud of his work as a professor, particularly when it comes to his students.
“They would always ask curious questions,” he says. “They helped me a great deal. That was one of the research highlights of my career, in teaching.”
In all, he fostered discovery in more than 10,000 students and 55 graduate students, the latter helping to conduct the NWSS Fed Beef Contest and participating in his research projects. One of those graduate students was longtime Elanco ruminant nutritionist Scott Laudert, who recalls Matsushima’s work ethic. “He was always early to get into the office. When I was a grad student, he would be out at the feedyard early in the morning,” Laudert says. “It wasn’t uncommon for him to be out there at 4:30 or 5 o’clock. He would read the bunks and do the paperwork for the cattle feeders to make their morning and afternoon feeds.”
Since Matsushima taught him how to read bunks, he had to meet him at the feedyard about 5 o’clock every morning—daylight or darkness, rain or shine. “He was just an exceptional teacher in that he’d take someone under his wing and teach them all they needed to know,” he says. “And if they were able to perform, he’s just let them take off on their own.”
“You know, people don’t receive credit for what they’ve done themselves,” Matsushima says. From good friends, family, livestock leaders, teachers and students, “they all supported me.”
That support team included his late wife, Dorothy, two children, Bob and Nancy, and four grandchildren.
“What I’m most proud of,” says Matsushima, “is my family. And I’m proud I’m an American citizen.”
Learn the good. Forget the bad. A life well lived by any standard.