International Beef Market Japanese magazines to feature Wyoming beefWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Cheyenne – “Our guests had a list of things they wanted to see. They wanted to be here for a sunrise or a sunset. We chose the sunrise, so they arrived here at the ranch at 5 a.m.,” commented Carol Farthing of the Farthing Ranch, northwest of Cheyenne.
The Farthing’s guests were a group from Japan, including a photographer and his assistant, a translator and food editors representing five different Japanese publications.
“The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is the organization that brought them here, and they made several stops,” Farthing explained.
Promoting American meat exports, Farthing Ranch was part of the “Gate to Plate” tour showcasing the positive aspects of American beef.
“We were the ‘gate,’ or the producers. From our place, they headed to New York to see some high-end steak houses at the ‘plate,’” she added.
The Japanese guests saw other aspects of American beef as well, including grocery stores and butcher shops.
“We were contacted by Ann Wittmann, the head of the Wyoming Beef Council, who asked if we would be amenable to hosting them,” Farthing noted. “We were really happy to do it. We believe we have a good, safe and healthy product.”
Up with the sun
When the group arrived, they were taken to the barn where they watched the horses getting saddled and ready for the day.
“We were moving a group of steers that day, so they followed along in their van, and the photographer took copious amounts of pictures,” she said.
Instructed by the photographer, the cowboys rode into the rising sun and away from it while he took his photos.
“Then we moved steers, and he took pictures of the cattle and the cowboys,” she added.
Next, the tour viewed the ranch’s cows and calves.
“I have to say, they were the most articulate, well-prepared and educated folks we’ve ever had,” Farthing remarked. “They did a great job in their research and asked pointed questions.”
Questions ranged from cattle age groups, such as cows and calves, to different breeds and favorite beef preparation techniques.
When she was asked about her favorite ways to prepare beef, Farthing explained, “Because I work outside and I am gone from the house a lot, I often use a crockpot. Two of them knew what a crockpot was, but none of them had ever seen one.”
She told them about how roasts and round steaks are ideal for using a crockpot, but the visitors were unfamiliar with those particular cuts of beef.
“When they talked about steak, it seemed to always be about T-bone steak, like there is no other kind. They eat a lot of organ meats, tongue and skirt steak,” commented Farthing.
She also noted that American cuts of beef are thicker, and thin cuts are much more common in Japan.
“They asked me if I prefer grass-fed or something from a feedlot. They knew the differences in marbling and so forth, and they have a preference for the end result of the feedlot,” she added.
The guests also explained to Farthing that a meal at a commercial steakhouse in Tokyo, Japan can cost $200 to $300 dollars, and reservations may have a two- to three-month waiting period.
“They like the end product. That is encouraging,” Farthing stated.
After moving steers and looking at the other groups of cattle on the ranch – the Farthings run a cow/calf yearling operation with Angus-Hereford cross cattle – the tour visited Farthing’s daughter-in-law’s house for a photo shoot with a meal prepared by the Wyoming Beef Council.
“They had a roast, kabobs and appetizers,” she commented.
For their noon meal, the group was taken several miles from the house to experience an authentic chuck wagon dinner, prepared by Guy and Kathy Landers with assistance from Tim George, who owns the chuckwagon, and his wife Georgia.
“They went up the day before, dug a pit and got everything set up for traditional Dutch oven cooking,” she explained.
Chicken-fried steak proved to be a humorous menu item, as the Farthings had to explain that no chicken meat is actually involved in the recipe.
“All done in the Dutch oven, the menu consisted of mashed potatoes, two kinds of dessert, cowboy beans and boiled coffee,” she noted, also explaining that the chicken-fried steak was cooked in a caldron of oil over a live fire.
Farthing added that it was a completely different experience for her guests.
“They thought the whole thing was terrific, and they ate every last bite,” she said.
The Farthing family also enjoyed hosting their guests, explaining aspects like their lifestyle such as how many hours they work, what a typical year looks and more.
“It involved our whole family. We have two sons here on the ranch, our daughters-in-law and our grandkids,” Farthing commented.
Farthing’s grandchildren Brinley and Carson are fifth-generation on the ranch, which has been in operation since 1903.
“We have our cattle and hay, and we raise our own horses,” Farthing explained.
The ranch also raises Shetland ponies, including the University of Wyoming Cowboy Joe mascot that attends events year-round.
As for the chance to share their operation with the Gate to Plate Tour, Farthing said, “Quite frankly, Ann Wittmann and Dianne Kirkbride should be the ones applauded for the whole thing. It went so smoothly.”
Kirkbride is the chairman of the Wyoming Beef Council and also Wyoming’s delegate to the National Federation of Beef Councils.
Beef checkoff Survey reviews program visibility and effectivenessWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“Producers continue to have very favorable attitudes toward the beef checkoff program and have been very consistent in their support over time,” stated Dan Hoffman of Aspen Media and Market Research in a Jan. 23 memorandum summarizing the results of the national 2015 Beef Producer Attitude Survey.
Survey results showed that three out of four producers approve of the program and support has ranged from 69 to 78 percent over the last five years.
“Just 11 percent disapprove of the checkoff, which is the lowest it has ever been since polling started 28 years ago,” noted Hoffman.
Producers who are aware of the beef checkoff program are more likely to favor it, which has been a consistent finding across surveys.
“Producers who are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ well-informed are more likely to approve the checkoff, especially those who say they are very well informed,” he commented.
Eighty percent of this group approves of the beef checkoff program, while only nine percent disapprove. Only 60 percent of those who say they are “not too well-informed” approve.
“With little knowledge, it can be difficult for producers to understand the benefits of the program,” he explained.
When producers were questioned about their familiarity with the program, 89 percent noted that they were aware of the checkoff.
“The reality, however, is that about one in three producers know little or nothing about it,” commented Hoffman.
Eleven percent of producers surveyed throughout the U.S. were not even familiar with the name.
“The 11 percent of producers who did not recognize the checkoff on an unaided basis were read a subsequent description of it,” noted Hoffman. “In total, the unaided and aided name awareness of the checkoff is very high, 93 percent.”
Seventy-two percent of surveyed producers believe that the beef checkoff has improved their profitability, and 73 percent agree that the program is headed in the right direction.
“The overall value of the checkoff is viewed favorably, regardless of the economy. About eight in 10 believe the checkoff has helped contribute to the positive trend in consumer demand for beef over the years, and about the same number feel it helps even when the economy is weak,” he explained.
Of the producers surveyed nation-wide, 76 percent believe that the program does a good job of representing their interests.
“In evaluating the checkoff’s performance in representing their interests, the vast majority of producers think the program is in tune with what they want from it,” stated Hoffman.
In Wyoming, extra questions were added to the survey in a practice known as a “heavy-up.”
“We are happy that we saw a big jump in the number of people who have seen or heard of the checkoff in Wyoming,” said Ann Wittmann, executive director of the Wyoming Beef Council.
Beef checkoff awareness among producers in Wyoming is 97 percent, 10 percent higher than the national average.
“We do a survey every two to three years, and results have been fairly consistent with what we have seen before,” commented Wittmann.
In Hoffman’s Wyoming memorandum, he explains that producers were asked about the Wyoming Beef Council’s transparency and accountability to producers.
“If they have an opinion, Wyoming producers are much more likely to agree than disagree that there is transparency and accountability. There are, however, about one in five producers who lack familiarity and say they are unsure,” he said.
Sixty-two percent agreed that transparency and accountability exist within the Wyoming Beef Council, while 17 percent disagreed, and 22 percent were unsure.
“The Wyoming Beef Council funds different checkoff program areas, but they wanted to determine whether producers have any preference about how this is done,” added Hoffman.
The three program areas included in the survey were national promotions, international promotions and advertising to build demand for beef in Wyoming.
“Of the three, the clear priority is to use funds for national promotions,” he noted.
Forty-seven percent of producers favor funds for this part of the program. Nineteen percent indicated priority for Wyoming beef awareness, and 23 percent prioritized international awareness.
“Wyoming producers also were allowed to identify other areas for funding, but only four percent did so,” Hoffman continued.
Producers were also questioned about the visibility of checkoff information in printed materials and radio advertising.
“Awareness is generally as high as two-thirds of producers who have seen at least one advertisement,” indicated Hoffmann, in reference to printed materials.
Thirty-seven percent recalled hearing a radio update or advertisement about the program.
“This approach is not as visible as printed advertisements, although it does reach a plurality of producers,” he explained.
The Wyoming Beef Council will review the results of the Beef Producer Attitude Survey and set future goals for the checkoff program based on the results.
“We will be announcing our goals, most likely, in April,” commented Wittmann.
Goals and tasks will be identified at the Council’s upcoming budget planning meeting.
“The survey is fairly time-consuming. We try to keep it short and succinct,” said Wittmann.
The survey was administered by an independent contractor, who many producers were reluctant to speak to.
“Producers don’t share information easily. It is the nature of our business,” commented Wittmann, “but we spoke out until we got enough responses for statistical accuracy.”
She explained that the program belongs to the producers who are paying for it.
“I believe in having strong data to give us feedback, so we know what we need to change and where we can improve,” she said. “It is critical that we get the data and respond to it appropriately.”
Auditing, quality assurance within the beef industry may boost consumer confidenceWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Riverton – “The perception of an interaction between people and animals, for many people, is their relationships with their pets,” commented University of Wyoming Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days on Feb. 12.
There are TV channels devoted to dogs, fresh and refrigerated products available for pets and countless toys and trinkets that pet owners can buy.
“Some people don’t understand the distinction between caregivers and taking care of animals versus the relationship between a rancher and the cattle he or she relies on,” he explained.
This may be one of the reasons that producers have to bridge the gap between actual production practices and consumer understanding.
“From a management standpoint, we have to be creative. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) are focused on animal wellbeing and providing some management ideas through different segments,” Paisley noted.
Retailers see that their customers are concerned about animal welfare, and they want more information.
“This is being passed back to us in the industry,” he said.
Opinions vary from one extreme to another – from urbanites who are subjected to countless examples of negative media to kids who grew up on a ranch and can not imagine why anyone would doubt that livestock are well cared for.
“Hopefully we are not all extremists one way or the other,” commented Paisley.
Producers need to be aware that consumers may not always understand how agriculture is practiced.
“We understand agriculture, and we know that productivity and growth is driven off the health and wellbeing of an animal,” Paisley said. “We know we do our best to provide that, but I think explaining that to the consumer is pretty important.”
Understanding the negative perceptions that exist is the first step toward improving consumer understanding.
“Some negative perceptions say that we exploit animals and all of our operations are corporately owned. We are all driven by profit and not animal wellbeing. Antibiotics contribute to our illness problem, and production is negative for the environment,” he described.
To combat some of these ideas, different factions of agriculture are creating voluntary auditing programs to evaluate and standardize their practices.
“The United Egg Producers have come up with some of their own guidelines and their own certification,” Paisley noted.
McDonalds and Walmart also have their own auditing services now.
“JBS Swift in Greeley, Colo., Cargill in Fort Morgan, Colo. and many of the other packing plants now have, at nearly all times, an independent auditor watching how cattle are being handled to make sure everything is being done humanely and realistically,” he explained.
Auditors watch holding pens, truck unloading and alleyways, making sure there is enough space and no injuries.
“They keep track of everybody using any kind of prod, and they keep track of vocalizations. If an animal bellows, they make a note of it,” Paisley added.
Tyson packing plants have established their own guidelines and no longer accept animals that have not been certified by their farm-check system.
“Now we are seeing where some of these feedlots are passing some of these efforts back down to the cow/calf producers,” Paisley explained.
Through these programs, protein sectors such as the beef industry are addressing animal welfare issues. They are talking about the issues and trying to improve consumer acceptance.
“We are seeing a lot more interest in doing BQA certification, cattle handling guidelines and transportation guidelines,” stated Paisley. “All of these types of things are continuing to be important.”
Beef checkoff MOU advances to CongressWritten by Saige Albert
After their meeting in December, the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) finalized and released a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to the members of the organizations involved.
“All of the organizations went back to their members to review MOU, and we had a follow-up meeting on March 12-13,” says Scott George, a past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association who has been integrally involved in the discussions. “After we reviewed what our organizations decided seven of the eight groups involved in the discussions agreed to sign on.”
The BCEWG has worked over the past several years to search for solutions to improve the beef checkoff across the nation, and this latest MOU, signed on March 13, will be given to lobbyists for each organization in Washington, D.C. to introduce this legislation for Congressional action.
“We will work to find people to sponsor a bill in the House and Senate and work with the Ag Committees,” George continues. “It has been interesting to see all of these groups coming together to get this done.”
The MOU describes a number of changes to the beef checkoff to enhance the checkoff and would provide more support for the beef industry.
One of the major changes is the increase of the checkoff from one dollar to two dollars per head.
These funds would be collected just as they are today.
Fifty percent of funds will go to the national level and 50 percent staying with the state beef councils.
“We want to make sure the one dollar we have now stays the same,” George explains. “The second dollar will be refundable. If producers don’t like the increase, they can ask for the second dollar back.”
“That is a really important provision,” he continues of the refund provision. “There are several reasons for it.”
George notes that it is important for producers who aren’t supportive of the additional dollar to have a refund provision.
“The fact that producers have the right not to participate is important,” George says. “We also hope the refundable dollar will help move the checkoff through Congress.”
Because some members of Congress aren’t particularly supportive of checkoff programs, a refundable provision could be helpful.
One of the challenges of a refundable extra dollar is the mechanism by which a refund would occur, but George notes that groups are working together to sort out the details.
“It is a collaborative process to try to figure these details out,” he says.
Another major change is in the structure of the checkoff.
“At the national level, the Beef Promotion Operating Committee (BPOC) decides how the dollars collected in the checkoff will be spent,” George explains. “The groups on the BCEWG wanted to be involved in the selection of the BPOC.”
As a result, the BCEWG proposed a restructured joint nominating committee.
“We proposed a joint nominating committee,” he says. “There will be seven representatives on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and seven representatives from the Federation of State Beef Councils, just like there are today.”
However, the BCEWG also added seven industry representatives to sit on the committee to interview candidates for the BPOC.
“It would take a two-thirds majority vote to take the names forward,” George comments.
George emphasizes, “This is an inclusive move to try to get the industry more involved in checkoff programs. This is a wonderful tool to help get people closer to the checkoff and increase their understanding of what is happening.”
Another important change highlighted in the MOU is the addition of a producer referendum.
“In the current program, if 10 percent of producers sign a petition and ask for a referendum, that referendum is triggered,” George says. “We are leaving that measure in place, but we are also adding another component.”
Similar to the soybean checkoff, a periodic referendum would be instituted. Under this situation, every five years, the Secretary of Agriculture would designate a location and time period for producers to go to to sign up to petition a referendum.
“This particular referendum could be to continue the checkoff as is, increase the assessment rate or end the program,” George notes. “This gives us the opportunity, as we go forward, to change the collection rate without requiring congressional action.”
“These changes are pretty substantial,” George says. “We’ve worked a long time, and we’ve worked hard accomplish this.”
Benefits of the beef checkoff
With no shortage of time and energy behind the work that the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group (BCEWG) has completed, Scott George, a cattle and dairy producer from Cody and past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, notes that he is passionate about the checkoff and its impacts on the industry, and the effort has been worthwhile.
“This checkoff has been the greatest salvation for the beef industry,” he comments. “I’ve seen the benefits it brings to us in the industry.”
When the checkoff was originally developed, it was created with the idea of fairness, state involvement and a good collaboration between the state and national level. Those principles have held strong throughout the implementation of the beef checkoff.
“The beef checkoff has turned the tide for beef consumption,” George says. “We have addressed safety concerns, such as E. coli O157:H7 and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and we continue to work on issues like Salmonella because they are safety concerns, and they are important.”
He notes that the checkoff has provided funds for human nutrition research, consumer education and new beef products development, as well as addressing other aspects of raising beef like beef quality assurance programs.
Checkoff dollars have also gone into improving export markets, which adds value to producer’s cattle, with research showing that exports add $300 per head.
“This is really important,” he says. “We have worked in all of these areas and it has paid off. The latest results show that producers receive an $11.20 return for every one dollar invested in the checkoff.”
“We have strong demand for our product,” George comments, “and if we didn’t have this checkoff, I doubt many beef producers would be in business today.”
Montana beef educator works with students to teach and engage consumersWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Buffalo – Suze Bohleen is the chairperson for the Montana CattleWomen Beef Education for grades seven through 12. She spoke in Buffalo on Jan. 24 at the Women’s Ag Summit about how to engage consumers in the beef conversation.
“I married a Montana cowboy and followed him home. Beef is my business,” she said.
Bohleen owns C.R. Bohleen Cattle Co. and is involved in various beef advocacy organizations. She works with home economics and health teachers to bring beef education into schools.
“One of the things we have to remember when we talk about beef is that we have to engage people,” she stated.
She explained that speakers should use “I feel” instead of “you” and that they should ask their audience what they want to know.
“Don’t assume,” she noted.
Referencing Henry David Thoreau, Bohleen commented on the importance of explaining things in a conscientious manner.
“It’s not what we look at that matters. It’s how we see it,” she quoted.
Producers, she continued, want to tell their story and earn trust from consumers by watching how they speak but also by telling the truth.
“We need to tell people about our lives without using words that will come back to haunt us,” she said.
She explained that producers are not an industry – they are a community. They do not have an operation. They work at the ranch or at home.
Short and simple
“We have to personalize our work and our love,” Bohleen explained.
It is also important to keep explanations simple.
“Use short sentences, provide context and don’t use jargon. We want to paint a visual picture,” she noted.
Eighty-seven percent of consumers trust a friend.
“We have to befriend them and show that we are concerned about them,” she commented.
Consumers are concerned about taste, safety, nutrition, consistency and price.
“Beef is expensive,” Bohleen said.
When she goes into schools, she talks to students about ways to make beef more cost effective.
“Consider the price per serving when we look at the package instead of the price of the package,” she suggested.
Packaging can be deceiving when a single cut of meat is more than what would be served on a plate.
“We can buy larger cuts and slice our own,” she continued.
Per pound, the price of beef goes up with the amount of time that the butcher spends cutting it. By doing some of that cutting themselves, consumers can save money.
“Buy family packs,” she commented.
Bohleen uses a vacuum sealer to repackage cuts from larger packages and stores them in the freezer.
“We can hunt for bargains,” she added.
Keeping an eye out for coupons or sales makes it easier to afford beef.
“Ask for help. The butcher is our best source of information because meat is his business,” she stated.
The butcher can help consumers to decide what cuts best fit their needs and their budgets.
Bohleen also spoke about sharing the nutritional value of beef.
“When we are talking about a serving of beef, we are talking about a three ounce serving,” she explained.
She carries a hockey puck or a deck of cards with her when she visits schools as a visual representation of one serving.
“About 39 percent of our daily requirement of iron can be found in a three-ounce serving of beef,” she stated.
Iron deficiency is common throughout the world and is especially prevalent in young women.
“To get the same amount of zinc as in a three ounce serving of lean beef, we would have to have 13.5 three-ounce servings of salmon,” she added.
Beef is considered a complete protein, with 10 essential vitamins and minerals and 10 essential amino acids.
“Beef has ZIP,” she commented, referencing the acronym to remind students that beef contains zinc, iron and protein.
She also mentioned that beef is leaner today than it was 20 years ago.
“Considering total fat, today’s beef is one-third leaner than it was in the 80s,” she said.
Bohleen also discussed preparation and food safety when she goes to the schools.
“If my mother worked and didn’t cook, how was I supposed to know how to cook?” she asked.
She takes her George Forman grill to demonstrate how easy cooking beef can be and tells the students that there are four key words in food safety – clean, separate, cook and chill.
“Don’t cross-contaminate,” she explained.
It is important to keep a clean workspace and to use clean knives and plates when switching from raw to cooked meats.
“Cook to a proper temperature. A safe temperature is 160 degrees for hamburger, so we’ve killed any bacteria,” she continued.
Leftovers should be refrigerated to stay fresh.
Advantages of production
While she demonstrates food preparation, Bohleen uses the opportunity to discuss some of the advantages of beef production.
“Cattle and ruminant animals eat things that we can not,” she said.
This means that cattle can utilize land that would otherwise be unproductive.
“Cows are recyclers,” she added, noting that they eat almond hulls in California and barley in Colorado after it has been used to make beer.
“We are generations away from our lifestyle. We want to share our story and we want to earn trust,” Bohleen said.