Patterson looks at the challenges in feeding today's consumers across the globe
With the world population continuing to grow, the director for producer education at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said world food production will need to increase over 100 percent the next 50 years to meet this demand.
John Patterson spoke to nearly 100 cattle ranchers during Cattlemen’s Day at the Gudmundsen Sandhills University of Nebraska Research Center. His message to the beef producers was to remain optimistic about the future of the beef cattle business and to be more willing to share their stories of what they do.
As Patterson shared with producers the need for more food to feed a growing worldwide population, he explained that 70 percent of the increase will be achieved through technological advances because finding more land for livestock and crop production isn’t an option.
“This goal is attainable,” he said, “because, in the past 50 years, world food production has increased by 145 percent. The greatest barriers to accomplishing this goal are allowing vocal minorities – those who drive the green-push for natural and organic – and luxury extremists to turn their choices into food policy,” he explained.
At this point, there are over 1 billion people going hungry in the world because of drought, war, government and other factors, Patterson continued.
“It is ridiculous. We are good at producing food, so there is no reason why anyone should go hungry,” he commented. “We produce enough food to feed everyone.”
North America is one of the few countries in the world that can produce enough food to feed itself and others. Countries like Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Central America, Western Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa have to import most of their food.
As countries become more developed and people increase their income, they want to eat more muscle-based proteins, like beef. Patterson said if the U.S. could tap more into markets like China, and everyone there would eat at least one Big Mac a year, it would tremendously increase the beef production needed to supply that, he added.
Where beef comes from
“Ninety-eight percent of U.S. consumers say that taste, cost and nutrition are the top three factors considered when purchasing food,” the education director stated.
Ninety-seven percent of consumers are not vegetarians, and 98 percent consume food grown conventionally and have no concern about biotechnology as a food safety issue. This is good news for the beef industry, Patterson said.
“Beef has product integrity, tenderness, juiciness and flavor. We just need to continue to make our product more consistent and be willing to tell the story of what we do in a truthful way,” he said.
Interestingly, Patterson said 52 percent of consumers, who are considered to be of the millennial generation, or those consumers who are 18 to 35 years old, have indicated they find it difficult to make a meal with beef. Another 65 percent of this generation said their children prefer chicken to beef.
These statistics are alarming to Patterson, who said, “This is the generation we are trying to sell beef to, so we have to find a way to get past some of these perceptions.”
Unfortunately, as new generations become more removed from the farming and ranching way of life, it is more difficult to educate them about how their food is produced. Patterson said 35 percent of consumers admit they know nothing about the beef industry, while an additional 44 percent admit they know very little.
Consumers who eat beef have admitted their number one concern is food safety, followed by concern that ranchers are protecting the environment, animal welfare and transparency.
“Most consumers believe livestock are being treated right,” Patterson said, “but when they see animal activist videos of cows being beaten, it makes them wonder. We have to continue to promote animal welfare, be more willing to tell our story and explain why we do certain things like give animals antibiotics.”
Patterson commended the cattle ranchers for remaining resilient, despite rising beef production costs, staggering break-even costs and tougher credit requirements.
“We’ve had a poor economy since 2009, and 70 percent of the U.S. is in a drought,” he said. “We have endless questions from consumers expressing distress over how beef is raised and about factory farms, and through it all we continue to raise beef.”
In 1900, 35 percent of the jobs in the U.S. were ag-related, compared to only 0.5 percent now.
Patterson said ranchers are some of the most stable citizens in the United States, although the average age of a U.S. rancher is now 61.
“They live by four principles,” he shared. “They preserve the environment, protect their livestock, provide high quality food and invest in the community. My concern is, are we doing a good enough job telling the consumer our story?”
Modern technology and ranching
“We have fewer cattle and record production,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Director for Producer Education John Patterson said. “This data shows we are able to produce more with less.”
In 1900, it took five acres of land to feed one person for a year, while today, because of technology and better production practices, it is 0.6 acres.
If technology were taken away from ranching, it would have devastating effects, Patterson continued. Modern technologies, such as growth-promoting implants, dewormers, fly control, ionophores, antimicrobial therapy and beta-agonists, have huge financial implications for operations.
For operators in the cow/calf sector, the removal of modern technology would increase breakeven prices by 47 percent, or approximately $274 per calf.
In the stocker segment, break-even would increase by $95 per head, or about 13 percent, without technology, and increases of about 13 percent, or $155 per head, would be seen in the feedlot sector without the tools.