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Future of sustainable ranching discussed by leaders in beef production

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On Jan. 26, Farm Country Updates hosted a webinar called “The State of Sustainable Ranching,” in which three panelists from across the beef value chain sat down to discuss the current state and bright future of sustainable beef production. 

During the webinar, Merck Animal Health Associate Director Janette Barnard, Tyson Foods Vice President of Marketing and Premium Foods Kent Harrison and U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe, provided their perspective on sustainability in the beef industry.  

Basis of sustainability

Across the nation, there are many different definitions of sustainable beef, according to Lyons-Blyth. She shared the foundation for sustainable beef means “taking care of the land, taking care of animals, taking care of the people and making money.”  

When looking at the entire beef value chain, sustainable beef is ensuring producers can be profitable while meeting consumer expectations, she continued. 

The producer plays a pivotal role in the sustainability of a market. The value, in any supply chain, whether its branded or commercial cattle, is held within the consumer, explained Harrison.

“Sustainability is the antithesis of what the consumer actually wants to think about – consumers don’t want to think about making money when it comes to being sustainable, but instead, making the world a better place,” added Harrison. 

 Not only is the product offered to the consumer important, but also how the product is marketed. Consumers make a lot of decisions based on how they feel, noted Harrison. 

“As long as beef is relatively affordable, we find time and time again consumers want to eat beef, and the value is rooted in the consumer,” said Harrison. “Producers have to be conscious how consumers view products.” 

Snapshot of consumer perspective 

Today, there is a substantial difference between generations in how customers view products. 

“We’re finding older consumers gravitate towards the tried-and-true information they grew up with,” said Harrison. “Individuals 56 years and older look at the world from the perspective of U.S.  Department of Agriculture (USDA) meat grades. Individuals below 39 years of age start to gravitate towards products that are civic in their claims – all-natural, environmental or organic.”

A critical difference between generations of consumers is younger consumers want to understand animal welfare and how the animal was raised, shared Harrison.  

“The good news, again, is raising livestock humanely is what ranchers and farmers have been doing for decades,” said Harrison. 

Priority indicators

“One of the most important things to remember is farmers and ranchers have always been focused on efficiencies – doing things better and passing down the operation to the next generation,” explained Lyons-Blythe. “The ‘feel good’ messages help consumers understand, but it’s equally important for producers to be able to back up the ‘feel good’ messages with facts.” 

The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is working on compiling useful information for the consumer on what is being practiced in the industry.  

The roundtable’s six high-priority indicators include animal health and well-being; efficiency and yield; water resources; land resources, air and greenhouse gas emissions and employee safety and well-being.

These six indicators are the foundation of the framework defining beef sustainability for the entire food chain, explained Lyons-Blythe. 

“Today it’s about what kind of beef is being marketed. Is it certified beef? Is it grass-fed Charolais cattle? Tell me what it is,” added Barnard. “The consumer market has bifurcated, and there are different segments interested in different things to the extent producers can align attributes and incentives around the supply chain.”  

Through the information complied by the roundtable, producers will be better able communicate with consumers about their products. 

“If we can talk about how the industry is a good part of not only the environment, but changing some of the climate conversation around methane and carbon equivalence with some of the best practices, then the industry can appeal more to the consumer,” added Harrison. 

Sustainable beef in the future 

The panelists concluded by discussing what sustainable beef might look like in the next five years.

“My goal on the roundtable would be to see the American public believes all beef is sustainable,” shared Lyons-Blythe. “I would also hope producers will be getting paid for the marketing of sustainable beef. The bottom line is, it’s a legacy – it’s beef consumption.” 

Harrison added, “In looking at the data, 76 percent of consumers want to know where their beef comes from.” 

“Continuing to tell those stories of the producer community in how they are evolving into an even more sustainable production practice system is so important,” said Harrison. “Let’s show consumers that producers are making this great product and how they work every day to make the product more sustainable and more environmental responsible to meet a climate goal.” 

“In five years, I believe the industry will see a large percentage of cattle sold through dedicated supply chains, which means they will be aligned around a specific attribute,” concluded Barnard. “The second thing is, in five years the industry will see solid carbon markets and changes in producer incentives as we continue to have conversations about beef.” 

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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