Opportunities for improvement in the beef industry identified at ILFWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Fort Collins, Colo. – Gary Smith, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, spoke at the International Livestock Forum (ILF) in Fort Collins, Colo. on Jan. 12 discussing the top opportunities in agricultural markets.
By collaborating with experts in the field, Smith identified the top opportunities for improvement in the beef industry.
The top priority, Smith said, “is to emphasize the use of a systems approach to build supply chains and prescriptive production.”
A systems approach will help to organize production in the beef industry so that specialized needs of consumers can be met.
“Producers control a supply chain because they control genetics, and end-users control it because they are the ones who pay money for a product,” he explained.
Prescriptive production captures niche markets by producing, advertising and selling products that meet specific consumer desires.
Targeting consumer needs
“The number two opportunity for the beef industry has to do with prescriptive production of grass-fed beef, natural beef, organic beef, high-quality beef, etc.,” he continued.
Thirty years ago, Smith didn’t believe that grass-fed beef would sell in the marketplace, but he admitted that people are paying a premium for it now.
“Grass-fed beef doesn’t taste good, but we have to produce it. We will give consumers polka-dotted cows if they think it will make the world better,” he joked.
Along with targeting consumer desires, Smith said that selection to improve production is also important, adding that the sophistication of genetic selection is an advantage for the industry.
“We need to do things to make cows more productive, like increase disease prevention,” he commented. “If we want great big cattle the size of an elephant, we don’t need pharmaceuticals or chemicals to do that. We need to do those things naturally by using selection.”
While producers strive to meet production goals and consumer tastes, consumers are concerned about how food animals go through their lives and get to their tables.
The industry, Smith continued, needs to address concerns about how cattle are raised.
“Across the pork, poultry and beef industries, consumers want producers to be sustainable, manage animal wellbeing, not harm the environment and leave a small footprint,” he explained.
Smith also addressed the challenge of consumer advocates.
“We are going to have to reconcile our disagreements with consumer advocates,” he stated.
One of the top food-related issue cited by consumers is safety of their food, and Smith noted that it is important for the beef industry to ensure beef is both microbiologically and chemically safe.
The beef industry spends $2.7 billion a year to protect consumers from Salmonella, E. coli and other microbial threats.
“Beef must also be chemically safe. We can’t leave residues in the product,” he said. “We also need to prepare for issues of food security, food defense, bioterrorism and the introduction of foreign animal diseases.”
After addressing concerns about safety and providing a product that consumers desire, Smith mentioned that the beef industry must meet demand.
The industry also needs to start rebuilding cowherds, according to Smith. In both domestic and global markets, there is a demand for beef, and the U.S., he noted, needs to take advantage of that.
“A tremendous amount of our income is associated with what we can sell to other countries, so we have to chase every opportunity that we have,” he explained.
Finally, Smith noted the importance of maintaining an interest in young people for beef.
“We need to attract the brightest young minds of the next generation to the beef industry,” Smith remarked. “We have to have those kinds of people building the future of our industry.”