South Americans explore Midwest beef industry
November 19, 2010
The South American beef industry is quietly expanding these days. Ranchers there are trading in their traditional grass-fed beef production methods in favor of the grain-fed beef business made popular by U.S. cattlemen. With feedlots popping up in the plains of Argentina and Uruguay like wildflowers on the prairie, South American producers are ready to learn how to feed cattle and do it well, and the U.S. is the perfect classroom for them to do just that.
Alfredo DiConstanzo, professor of beef cattle nutrition and management at the University of Minnesota (UM), hosted a tour of the Midwest for 33 visitors from Argentina and Uruguay on Nov. 14-19, 2010, where the group made around 10 Midwest stops to agriculture facilities, including three in South Dakota: Mitchell Livestock Auction Market; Redstone Feeders in De Smet; and the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Opportunities Farm in Lennox.
“The feedlot and grain-feeding industries in these countries are starting to take shape and grow, and our guests were exposed to our approach to cattle handling, facility designs, equipment options and processing of corn and grains, as well as our cattle and environment,” said DiConstanzo, who has hosted two regional tours for the South Americans in the past two years.
“Our focus was showing the group our feedlots and giving them samples of the different ways to do things. Many of the visitors are starting up feedlots or expanding their operations. Our guests represented every segment of the industry, from cow-calf to packing plant, with many playing a part in more than one segment; they are very vertically integrated,” he said.
In addition to the South Dakota stops, the group visited several feedlots where they were shown examples of equipment, mixers, manure spreaders, monoslope barns, lagoons and various nutrition management tools. DiConstanzo said the group was full of questions and comments in comparing the U.S. cattle feeding industry to their own.
“One of the main comments I hear is that they are very intrigued by how long-term planned the facilities are,” said DiConstanzo. “In many cases, their lack of stability and extensive government regulations causes them to do things quickly. Because our facilities are permanent fixtures, they see our feedlots as legacies for the next generation.
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“Second, they were impressed with how clean, well-managed and well-organized most places are that we visit. They notice our extreme attention to details and our economic investments that will make producers money down the road.”
DiConstanzo discovered that a big misconception the South American producers have about the U.S. cattle industry is that beef producers are heavily subsidized, giving an artificial competitive edge globally.
“They come here thinking beef producers are heavily subsidized, and they quickly find out that we are not,” explained DiConstanzo. “They are surprised with how efficient producers can be in order to keep input costs down and stay competitive in the market place.”
Knowing that Argentina will one day be a bigger player in the global beef market, many U.S. cattle producers are hesitant about sharing so much information about the Midwest feedlot industry; however, DiConstanzo believes this is a short-sighted attitude.
“Although Argentina will one day be our next big competitor, they also have some real challenges to face, especially with their extremely regulatory government,” noted DiConstanzo.
“Beef production is thriving in places like the U.S., Canada and Australia, but it’s still challenging in many countries we would view as competition. This worries me about the future of the global beef industry, if those who want to produce beef are unable to do it because of infrastructure issues.”
At the end of the day, he said the visitors have a lot in common with U.S. beef producers.
“They are very focused on economics,” said DiConstanzo. “They are very keen on the dollars and sense of the business, and they think things through quite well before making big decisions. Overall, both the teachers and students learn a great deal from this experience, and we all get better because of it.”
While Argentine beef is considered a high-quality product around the world, they are finally discovering that grain-fed beef is even better. With the expanding feedlot business in South America, they will certainly be a country to keep an eye on in the future, DiConstanzo concluded.