|Beef consumers spark revolutionary
change for livestock producers
Special to the Times
Posted on Monday, August 1, 2005
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Beef consumers may not be aware of the impact of their
changing buying habits, but they are sparking what experts
described as a "revolution" for producers
at a symposium sponsored by the University of Arkansas
department of animal science. "Branded beef,"
which now accounts for about 20 percent of the beef
sold in supermarkets, could change the way Arkansas
farmers and ranchers raise cattle, said Dr. Gary Smith,
of Colorado State University. He said branded beef could
soon grow to more than half of the market.
Smith was one of five nationally recognized experts
on marketing and genetics who spoke at the June 9-10
symposium, which Animal Science Department Head Keith
Lusby said was part of the centennial celebration for
Animal husbandry was one of the original departments
when the College of Agriculture — now Dale Bumpers
College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences —
was established in 1905.
Dr. Tom Troxel, director of animal science extension
programs for the UA System’s statewide Division
of Agriculture, said the university is helping producers
take advantage of new beef cattle marketing opportunities.
Smith said branded beef comes in distinctive packages
and generates consumer loyalty by some combination of
perceptions of quality, wholesomeness, animal welfare,
and other qualities. "A key to success is a brand
story," Smith said. The story might be about the
brand’s distinctive eating quality, or that it
is naturally or organically raised, or that it is raised
entirely on grass or by local farmers, he said.
Dr. H. Glen Dolezal of Excel, a Cargill Foods company,
said early brands focused on the strengths of specific
breeds, such as Angus or Hereford, for traits like marbling.
"Today, greater emphasis is placed on tenderness,
leanness, traceability, portion size, and price point
for food service, retail and export," he said.
Smith said only a very few brands are certified as
"organic" because of the high cost of meeting
tough USDA standards for organic certification.
A major benefit for packers and consumers is the USDA
inspection service, which provides government certification
that a particular brand meets the claims on the label,
Getting Paid for Quality "Branded beef programs
are the key to leading the beef industry out of the
commodity business," Dolezal said. They increase
opportunities for a producer to get paid to manage cattle
for quality rather than just to minimize production
costs per pound for the commodity market, he said. A
producer now can contract with a company to raise cattle
that meets a brand’s standards. Even with no contract,
cattle that are "source verified" —
sold as a group with a record of when and where the
animals were born and how they were raised — bring
a premium price. Other speakers at the seminar described
advances in technology that give producers more control
over the genetics of their cattle in order to produce
beef with specific traits for a premium market. Within
10 years, DNA testing will be widely available for farmers
and ranchers to select and breed cattle for branded
beef products, said Dr. Larry Benyshek, a private consultant
and former University of Georgia professor. DNA testing
technology is being advanced with the help of National
Institutes of Health funding for a bovine gene sequencing
project, based on NIH interest in cattle as a model
for human medicine, Dolezal said. One increasingly viable
option for producers is to market their own beef brand,
Ozark Pasture Beef Ozark Pasture Beef, LLC, was started
in 2003 by nine Northwest Arkansas farmers who participated
in a USDA-funded study of grass-fed beef production.
University animal scientists from Arkansas and Tennessee
and the National Sustainable Agriculture Information
Service on the UA campus worked with the producers.
Tim Johnson of Springdale said Ozark Pasture Beef is
now available in the frozen meat sections at Marvin’s
IGA and the Ozark Natural Foods Cooperative store in
Fayetteville and Kirk’s Market in Eureka Springs.
"It has been an uphill battle, but interest is
picking up and we are getting calls back from people
we contacted two years ago," Johnson said. The
brand is just one marketing strategy used by the farmers,
Johnson said. They also sell cattle through more conventional
channels. One of the "promises" of the brand
is that no antibiotics are used, so animals that have
to be treated for an infection are marketed in other
Johnson said Ozark Pasture Beef is for consumers seeking
lean beef, raised naturally and locally, entirely on
grass, with no antibiotics or hormones. When compared
to beef from grain-fed cattle, pasture-finished beef
has been found to contain higher levels of conjugated
linoleic acids (CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids, which
are reputed to provide certain health benefits.
Part of the appeal is simply that the meat is an alternative
to commodity beef, Johnson said. "All of our calves
are from cows owned by the producers, and we know the
complete life history of every animal."
The beef is USDA inspected at the abattoir operated
by the UA department of animal science, which harvests
and packages the beef under contract with Ozark Pasture