Beef research, promotion and education

Ivan Rush
for Tri-State Livestock News

It seems the drought holds on in the majority of the intermountain high plains region and at this point little relief is in sight. Almost every meeting and publication is filled with information on dealing with drought which is understandable but unfortunately there is very little good news. I see more are thinking or talking of dry lotting cows this summer which may be the best alternative for some that have no grass however I can see very little alternatives where this can be done at a low cost per day, plus it will entail other problems if they are calved in dry lot.

I feel a lot has been written about the drought and I decided I wanted to write about some good news in the beef industry – some good news that we sometimes take for granted. I have had the opportunity to hear Ann Marie Bosshamer, Executive Director of the Nebraska Beef Council on a couple occasions recently and have been thrilled to learn of the many things that the beef councils are doing to promote our product – BEEF. Actually they have three objectives – promote beef, sponsor research on beef and education. In my opinion, this is due to the great ideas and leadership of the beef producers who sit on the beef councils and the staff that carry out the programs. One might ask of the importance of promoting beef currently as the price of beef at the retail level is relatively good at this time. I would argue that it may be more important today than in years past as we all know that costs for beef producers at all levels – from the cow-calf producer, to feedlots, to the packing houses and processors are at record high levels. We have talked for years that we must continue to look for efficiencies and for ways to cut costs of production but in many operations we are already at bare-bones and additional cost savings are not readily apparent. If efficiencies or cost savings cannot be found then the only way to experience profits is to sell the product at a profitable level for all concerned and currently because of record input costs these sales must be at or near record levels. This is a challenge as we must compete with lower priced, competitive meats especially pork and poultry. As far as consumption is concerned, poultry is the leading meat and pork is trending to overtake beef currently. It is also noteworthy that our check-off dollars available to carry out programs continue to shrink, partly because of fewer cattle numbers, approximately 10 million less cows, than when the beef check-off was initiated in 1985. Inflation, which cattlemen understand well, has decreased the real spending value of the dollar to $0.47 which means the check-off dollar is operating on about half-value since the inception of the program. It is a compliment to the cattlemen producers on the beef boards and the staff for finding efficiencies to maintain high-quality and productive programs plus through finding beneficial industry partnerships. Hard decisions have to be made to find which programs give us the most bang for the buck as we don’t have the funds to carry out all good programs.

In the presentations that I have attended I heard of only a portion of the great work that is being done and I will only cover a couple of programs that are having a tremendous impact. I was pleased to learn that the Nebraska Beef Council Board Members have supported the thought that we must invest where the people are. In Nebraska, for example, we have many more cows than people, plus consumers, when compared to those in heavily populated areas such those on the east and west coast are already good educated consumers of beef. Because of the need for education and promotion of beef in those areas the Nebraska and Kansas Beef Councils provide funds to hire Dietitians in New York, Florida and California/Nevada to promote our product in those highly populated areas where very little local check-off dollars are available.

Other programs that appear to be paying big dividends are those that are influencing the influencers or in other words getting the beef facts in the hands of prominent people that have influence over many people in their line of work. One example, is a joint program of beef councils, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri where they bring in up to 50 dietitians from the most populated states for a three-day program to educate them about the positive aspects of beef in the diet. They not only cover the latest research on beef in the diet but also have beef producers and processors tell how the quality beef is produced. One such quote from Jennifer Egeland from Ball Foods is an example of what dietitians say and learn. “People want to know where their food comes from, how it’s grown and who touches it. So it’s a really great experience to be able to feel confident to tell them the process beef goes through to make it from the ranch to the store.”

Another program that pays very high dividends is a “Work Day” that only targets to 6-8 key people each year. The reason this program is great is that they invite a select few such as top decision makers in companies such as McDonalds, Wal-Mart, chefs and culinary instructors, influential human nutritionists, plus others that may influence millions that consume beef. They spend two days in Nebraska where they go in small groups and are hosted for half a day on a working ranch, a cattle feeding operation and a packing plant. These are very personal visits with often only two people at each location at one time so they have considerable time to see the “how’s” of the operation, time to answer questions and to have informal discussions. The participants are very busy, sharp people but have had limited experiences with beef production – or worse yet, have had meetings and/or information from people or organizations that do not have our industry or best interest in mind such as PETA or HSUS – and perhaps have a prejudice before coming to Nebraska. Follow-up interviews indicate they learn a tremendous amount about our industry and feel much more informed and comfortable in presenting beef in a positive light to their customers or to people they influence.

I could write many more positive things about how our check-off dollars are working for our benefit but don’t take my word for it. Visit your beef council representative and the staff in your state and have them tell of the many programs.

Have a great week and pray for rain.