At the final session of the 2016 OSU Extension beef school webinar series, Francis Fluharty gave a fast moving and informative 15 minute presentation entitled “Production Practices and Consumer Trends Becoming Intertwined”. Francis is a ruminant nutrition researcher located at OARDC and I would like to highlight a couple of the points he made that relate to beef cattle production.
In a cow-calf enterprise there are management practices that increase profitability potential. Timely reproduction that results in a calving interval that produces a calf every year at the same time is important. Francis said that every additional heat cycle before a successful pregnancy takes away 50 pounds of weaning weight. A Kansas farm management analysis of beef cattle producers showed there was a $300 difference in per cow cost between the top 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of producers. What can be done to decrease production costs? In our area, forages should provide a competitive advantage and producers must become proficient and efficient in the use of forages to reduce the cost of production.
The other part of the profitability equation will be growing or producing beef with practices that meet consumer expectations. Francis said producers need to understand consumer trends because consumers determine what retail grocery stores and restaurants buy from cattle processors. One example provided by Francis was a chart showing the most important attributes retailers look at for meat. While getting a good value topped the list, Francis pointed out that animal welfare now ranks above all-natural or sustainability in importance. This type of trend is going to impact how beef cattle are raised and meat is produced. Consumer demand for production practices that are perceived or certified as humane is growing.
There are two distinct markets emerging for beef. One is the grass-fed market that appeals to health conscious consumers that are concerned about animal welfare and environmental sustainability in addition to their own health. The other market is highly marbled beef that appeals to consumers concerned with palatability and eating experience. Francis said that matching genetics and feed resources to the end market is critical. These two markets require very different genetics, feeds, management skills and marketing strategies.