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Beef

In looking at the cost and value of quality, Certified Angus Beef’s Mark McCully says just the use of the term “quality” can mean many things. 

“When we talk about quality, we can talk about wholesomeness, freshness, color and other attributes that shape quality,” he comments. “As a industry, we often talk about beef quality in terms of quality grade ‒ and more specifically marbling.” 

Quality grade is the beef industry’s best predictor of consumer eating satisfaction, and the trait is primarily determined by the intramuscular fat in the carcass. 

Consumer focused

McCully says today’s beef consumer is persnickety.

“They’re pretty finicky, and they want a lot of different things,” he says. “Consumers want to know about how we raised cattle and what we’ve done related to antibiotic use. They also want to know about traceability and more.” 

“The one thing we don’t want to lose sight of, though, is the number one demand driver of beef, which is taste,” McCully emphasizes. “We can’t lose sight of that point.”

As marbling continues to increase, the odds of a great eating experience for consumers increases, he continues. 

“We know when we get into the Premium Choice and Prime categories, the odds of a bad eating experience goes away,” he says. “Consumer satisfaction goes up as we increase marbling and increase quality.” 

Improvement

At the same time consumers demand more in terms of eating experience, McCully says the beef industry has seen tremendous advancements in terms of quality.

“For many years, we didn’t make a lot of progress,” he explains. “As we got into 2008-09, we started seeing some trends.”

McCully continues, “In the last 10 years, we have made enormous progress in the quality of our product. That comes from a lot of different things.”

Genetics, he explains, are the primary reason for improvements. Cattlemen’s diligence in continuing to improve marbling in beef cattle has paid dividends. 

“Until we aligned genetics with our management and mindset and until we learned how to reach the genetic potential of these cattle in the last 10 years, we didn’t see improvement take off,” McCully comments. 

Additionally, camera grading and use of technology in assessing product quality have improved the industry’s ability to consistently grade carcasses.

“We have better tools to use on the genetic side, and ultimately, we have produced a higher quality end product,” McCully says. “As an industry, we need to feel good about that, because it is driving the demand for the product we produce.” 

Production

In 2010, U.S. cattlemen produced nearly 13 million pounds of Prime carcasses each week. By 2018, production reached over 33 million pounds each week, with 158 percent improvement.

“That’s just in eight years, which is incredible when we think about how slow our industry traditionally moves,” McCully says. 

Just over 50 million pounds per week of Premium Choice beef was produced on average in 2010. That number increased to 96 million pounds a week in 2018 ‒ a near doubling from where the industry was less than a decade ago.

These increases come from several areas. First, the beef industry has shifted the percentage of cattle that grade higher. 

“We’re also harvesting more cattle, too,” McCully explains. “We have a couple years where we’ve chewed through a lot of inventory.” 

McCully adds, “The big shift has been on the bottom end, though. We have produced much less of the lower end of our product, from a quality standpoint.” 

Over the last decade, the beef industry is producing 50 million pounds less of Select beef. Additionally, an insignificant amount of Other or Standard beef is produced. 

“This all ties to value,” McCully says. “The real question is what is this improvement worth and what does it cost us.” 

Shifting markets

Despite the fact that the phrase paradigm shift is often overused, McCully comments, “I think we have seen a paradigm shift in our business. We’ve gone from being commodity minded to producing with the consumer in mind.”
“This is a result of a very intentional focus by cattlemen to produce a higher quality end product and respond to signals that have been sent,” he says.

Cost

While value is often emphasized, McCully says the cost side is not often an area of focus.

“Producers know, however, that it’s all about the bottom line and value in relation to the cost,” he explains. “We probably need to have a better understanding of what the cost of increasing quality has been.” 

Recent data provides optimism for the ability to develop high-quality cattle at a relatively low cost. 

Five Rivers Feedyard compared their high-grading pens to low-grading pens. High-grading pens were about 90 percent Choice and Prime, while low-grading pens were 60 percent Choice and Prime. 

“From a feedyard performance standpoint, we found that the high-grading cattle were heavier,” McCully explains, noting the days on feed were similar for cattle. “We also didn’t see any differences in average daily gain or cost of gain.” 

In achieving quality at a low cost, McCully says the beef industry must be careful about overfeeding and management. 

The secret, he says, comes in genetic and breeding decisions.

“We also have to make sure we don’t over-select for leanness and end up with hard-doing cows,” he explains. “It’s a challenge for us to get better, but we can breed cattle and build cattle today that meet consumer satisfaction, produce a high-quality product and do it very efficiently.” 

McCully spoke during the 2019 Cattlemen’s College, held during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

From the consumer all the way to the producer, beef industry leaders from across a wide spectrum of the industry agree that relationships will be key to continuing to solve the issues facing beef producers. 

Sharing the story

On the producer side, Joe Hampton of Mt. Ulla, N.C. received this year’s Certified Angus Beef Ambassador Award in September for his work connecting with consumers and sharing the beef story. Hampton and his wife Robin own Back Creek Angus, and they responded when consumers expressed interest in the product they were growing.

“Early on, we realized there was value to the industry for people like Robin and I to open up our operation and share with folks what we do every day,” explains Hampton, who also notes misconceptions about the agriculture industry continue to grow on a daily basis. 

The operation sits within two hours of 7 to 8 million people, which provides the Hamptons with a unique opportunity. 

He comments, “Within about two hours of us is about 7 or 8 million people, and while Robin and I, at times, would rather live somewhere where there weren’t so many people, we have to understand that that puts us in a unique position that we share information about the agricultural community to people who don’t see it on a daily basis.”

The Hamptons open their ranch for tours to a variety of stakeholders, including students, moms, media groups and chefs, and they strive to provide visitors the facts necessary to form opinions about beef production. Tours are held on weekends, and attendees get the chance to walk in their pastures, see the cattle and ask questions – which can be a scary prospect, says Hampton. 

He explains, “When school groups come out here it’s okay for the third grader to not understand where their food comes from, but the teachers and the parents don’t know where the food’s coming from, either. That’s why we think it’s important that we open this place up and we’re honest about what we do. We’re proud of what we do. We think we’re leaving this place in a good way.”

And while the Hamptons don’t think their story or operation is particularly unique, they see opportunity in their unique position and location. 

“While we will never be able to produce hundreds of bulls for the industry, we can share that information here,” Hampton comments.

Packer perspective

Tyson Fresh Meat’s John Gerber, the longtime head of procurement at the company’s Dakota Dunes, S.D. plant, echoes Hampton’s thoughts, saying, “Consumers want to know that the animal has been cared for throughout its life.”

Responding with transparency, collaboration and communication has been key, he notes. 

In addition, when major retailers make requests of Tyson, Gerber says the company takes the same approach, working with producers to meet the needs of consumers. 

“We learned at Tyson we are not going to say no, especially to a major retailer,” Gerber explains of the growing shift toward premium Choice Angus beef. 

By working with their suppliers, changing a few grids and providing some incentives, Gerber says beef cattle producers were able to help Tyson increase beef demand by meeting the requirements set forth by retailers seeking more premium Choice Angus beef in recent years. 

With his target set on the highest quality, Gerber says, “We are going to continue looking for the highest quality cattle we can find out there. The consumer doesn’t want even Select anymore, and they for sure do not want less than Select grade.” 

“The consumer demands a high-quality piece of meat,” he continues. “They paid more for meat when the herd was decimated, and when cattle prices got high, they paid more for beef. But they bought beef, and they learned that there is a value there. They will pay for the value.”

But it is only through working with producers that Tyson is able to meet their high-quality goals, Gerber says, explaining that by working together, producers and suppliers can help to continually increase beef demand. 

Gerber emphasizes the beef industry works together much better now than it used to, and the beef production chain continues to forge relationships among itself, as well.

“We have a lot of young, aggressive ranchers who want to be a part of the feeding business,” he explains. “We’ve got producers who want to get close to us, and we for sure want to get closer to them.”

The key to continued growth, he adds, is going to be continuing to be relationships up and down the supply chain.

“The consumer keeps asking us for certain attributes, and the only way we can deliver those attributes is through our suppliers,” Gerber comments, “and together, through collaboration, communication, talking about what the consumer demands, I think we do a pretty good job of increasing beef demand, which makes us all winners.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and compiled this article from several episodes of Certified Angus Beef’s Angus VNR. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

As the nationwide defense of lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) continues, many are still taking action to speak the facts about the topic, including political leaders who toured a plant where the product is produced, and beef markets are now seeing the impact of the controversy.
    Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy and South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels toured the only Beef Products, Inc. plant presently in operation as demand for LFTB orders from groceries across the country have declined since the “pink slime” controversy began. In a press conference following the tour, Branstad compared the media interest in pink slime to the swine flu a few years ago, when pork consumption decreased largely because of consumers’ lack of knowledge about the topic.
    Gary Acuff, director of the Center for Food Safety at Texas A&M University, has spoken to the use of ammonia in the LFTB process.
    “Ammonia is not a necessary step, but is done to make the product safer,” he said, pointing to other consumer products with ammonia, including chocolate, coffee creamers and tofu. He said the beef industry is heavily invested in food safety and added the science-based process made use of as much beef as possible.
LFTB in Wyoming
    “We have been getting so much publicity that it’s been incredibly time consuming to try to get the facts out,” says Wyoming Beef Council Executive Director Ann Wittmann of LFTB. “What we’re seeing in print is not very balanced, but what we’re seeing in social media is a little better. Part of that, I believe, is because the Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program nationwide has been responding, and we have some great spokespeople nationally in both MBA and the scientific community who have done a good job of telling the real story.”
    We’re doing everything we can to fight the fight and make sure the truth is out there, and we hope the truth and the science will prevail,” she adds.
Cattle futures on the defense
    According to a CME Group report on April 2, cattle futures remain on the defensive, and they say one particularly troubling indicator is the weakness in the price of fat beef trimmings.
    “We estimate that 50CL beef trim accounts as much as 10 percent of total beef on the carcass (using USDA cutting yields and taking the highest volume possible for each primal),” say the analysts. “In addition, packers generate another five to 10 percent as extra fat trim, and a good portion of this supply went into making LFTB and related products, as well as into rendering. We have seen a lot of estimates as to the supply of LFTB coming to market. Steiner estimates overall production at around 400 million pounds a year. Other estimates peg this supply at 500 million pounds a year.”
    The conversion rate of extra fat trim to LFTB is generally three to one, says CME Group, or it takes three pounds of fat trim to generate one pound of LFTB.
    “If 75 percent of the production capacity of LFTB is lost due to the controversy, and this is a big ‘if’ at the moment, it would imply an additional 900 MM pounds of extra fat trimmings available. Some of this product will go into the 50CL supply or traded as extra fatty trim to be blended with leaner product and eventually become ground beef. A large portion will go back into rendering and trade at a discount to what it sold for in the past,” says CME Group.
Traders discount cattle
    So how does this affect live cattle? In January and early February, before the heavy weights became apparent and before the controversy over LFTB, analysts were estimating fat beef trim prices for April and May at around $120 per hundredweight (cwt.). On March 30, 50CL beef was quoted at 73 cents per pound.
    “This kind of difference translates into about $3.20/cwt. per head live. While we do not have prices for extra fat trim, it is fair to say that prices for this product are down sharply, as well. Traders have been discounting cattle futures based in part on the fact that trim values are weak and could stay weak. The removal of LFTB implies that packers now have to sell a good portion of the fat trim generated from the carcass at much lower prices, thus reducing cattle values,” notes CME Group.
    What is a further concern for the market is that once Memorial Day passes, demand for fat beef trim going into hamburgers declines.
    “With more fat trim around and weaker demand, we could see further downward pressure in the complex, hence the sharp decline in June futures,” note the analysts.
Impacts to consumer demand
    Another factor that is a corollary of the LFTB story is the impact it could have on consumer demand.
    “It is always hard to speculate how consumers will respond to specific issues,” says CME Group. “We think it is fair to assume that the longer the issue percolates in the press, the more significant the impact on demand. Different from E. coli, which is an issue that is known to consumers and about which they have been educated, the LFTB issues is new and until the consumer knows more about it, their final demand is unknown or unknowable.”
    “The removal of LFTB from a number of retail and foodservice operations implies the need for another source of supply that will replace it,” they continue. “The extra supply can be found, but at significantly higher prices as some lean beef cuts will probably go in the grinder. The consumer will eventually get the supply of ground beef they need, it may cost more even if cattle are valued less.
    Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Denver, Colo. – At the mid-January gathering of the 2010 International Livestock Conference Wesley Batista, President and CEO of Brazil-based JBS, was on hand to speak to the audience.
“My father started JBS from the ground 57 years ago, and all my father’s life he was involved in the cattle and packing business,” said Batista in a thick Brazilian accent. “He’s still strong at 75 years old and runs farms, feedlots and cow/calf operations. We know how hard it is to produce anywhere, and to produce is a very important job.”
Today Batista and his brother run JBS. Batista is responsible for the western operation and Australia, while his brother manages South America and Europe.
“We’ve been growing, but we’re only able to grow the company because we have a really good team,” he notes. “Our biggest asset is the team that is part of JBS and runs the company.”
In 2007 JBS first came to the U.S. with the purchase of Swift & Co. “We’ve been working inside JBS to improve our business, and fortunately we’ve been improving and getting better every day, so the company is heading in a very good direction. We’re optimistic about the future of our business.”
“I think the whole industry – producer, packers, distributors and retailers –has a lot of opportunity to improve our business,” he continued. “The business overall has been very challenged. At the end of the day, we definitely believe that as an industry we have a huge opportunity to work together and to improve our business.”
Batista continued that, in his view, it’s about demand for the product. “A lot of times we complain between producers and packers, but at the end of the day it’s all about consumption. If we have more demand for the product, we have a better time in our industry.”
“At JBS we are open to work, and we’ve been working as part of the industry to see how we can improve our business through stimulating more demand for our product,” he added. “In the U.S., for example, there are 300 million people. We can imagine increasing consumption to two pounds per person per week, which means 600 million pounds consumed. In our view that’s a huge opportunity.”
“When we look at the whole industry together, we can work to stimulate more demand,” said Batista, adding another key area within JBS is exports.
“In 2009 the volume JBS exported was 10 percent more than in 2008,” he stated. “We’ve been working really hard to expand our export sales. We buy cattle, disassemble the cattle and sell a lot of pieces in different markets, and that’s very key in our business. We are able to sell, into as many markets as we can, the right cuts into the right market.”
He noted JBS’s recognition that every different country and region likes to eat different kinds of meat, giving Korea and short ribs as an example. “Each market has different preferences and that’s key, in our view, to improving our industry,” he said.
“I think we need to be careful with market restrictions,” he added. “In some ways we can improve market access, but on the other hand if we don’t work diligently we can reduce market access because those countries are looking to protect their own economies and create more jobs in their countries. It’s a key area, but we need to watch and work closely with governments to ensure we take care in expanding market access.”
Speaking of beef production, Batista remarked that global production isn’t increasing anywhere, and some areas like Europe, the U.S. and Australia have reduced production.
“Overall, global beef production is steady or declining,” he added. “We are seeing markets still growing, with fast growth in China, Brazil and Russia. We still watch this, and we think we’ll see the benefit of growth in those area markets because of the decline in production and increased demand as those countries are growing.
He concluded by saying JBS thinks the two key opportunities in the beef industry are increasing both demand in the U.S. and market access globally. “Those two things would improve our whole business,” he said. “At the end of the day, if producers and packers and retailers complain about each other, we will not go anywhere. I know that we can go somewhere if we have more demand and market access.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Deadwood, S.D. – Holly Swee, South Dakota beef checkoff director of nutrition and consumer information, told producers they should be ready to talk to consumers because consumers want to know about where their food comes from and about the folks who raise it.

“We should have some basic nutrition information to share with them or at least know where to go for resources,” she remarked at the Joint Wyoming and South Dakota Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers conference in Deadwood, S.D. on Jan. 22.

“Protein is one of the most underappreciated macronutrients. It is so important for optimal health,” she explained.

Although the United States has been focused on nutrition for many years, Swee feels that protein has been left out of the conversation, and she hopes the trend is changing.

Nutrition history

“During World War I and World War II, we had to keep our people strong and healthy and we had to keep our country strong and healthy so nutrition scientists were looking at ways to fight disease,” Swee described. “One of the things scientists found out was that certain nutrients could prevent diseases.”

At that time, scientists discovered relationships between disease and nutrition, such as iodine deficiencies causing goiter and vitamin D deficiencies causing rickets. To prevent disease in Americans, products such as iodized salt and fortified bread were added to the marketplace.

By the 1950s, the population soared, the Great Depression had ended and the science shifted from what was missing from the diet to what people were eating that they shouldn’t be.

In 1977, the U.S. Senate Committee for Nutrition and Health Needs published a report asserting that sugar, salt and fat were directly linked to obesity, heart disease, stroke and many other diseases.

“Even though sugar and salt were mentioned, they were basically taken out of the story, and there was one main focus – it was fat. It wasn’t just fat and oils, it was animal fat as well. Fat became a villain,” described Swee.

Diet recommendations

The report was also one of the first stepping stones to the Dietary Guidelines, and as time went on, experts continued to encourage diets high in carbohydrates and low in fats.

“Protein wasn’t really in the conversation, even though the National Livestock and Meat Board had done much research in positive terms for protein since the 1920s. It wasn’t a focus, and people weren’t talking about it,” said Swee.

In the 2000s, people were starting to look at diets in new ways and scientists acknowledged the need for more research about protein. In 2007, the beef checkoff met with 50 different protein scientists from around the world to talk about optimum protein levels in the diet, muscle management, prevention of disease and quality of various protein sources.

“From there, we had eight research papers that were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in May 2008,” commented Swee. “A three-ounce serving of lean beef has about 180 calories and 10 essential nutrients. We can get almost 50 percent of our protein requirement for the day from that three ounces.”

Breeding and processing techniques have also lead to leaner products. Eight cuts of beef now meet approval criteria for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Checkmark program.

Percent of calories

In a study done by the Institute of Medicine in 2000, scientists developed an Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Rate (AMDR) to look at diet through percentage rates. Based on the AMDR scale, they determined that between 10 and 35 percent of calories should come from protein.

“There is a big difference between preventing a deficiency and maximizing optimal health, which is what the AMDR wanted to do. They also noted that most of the benefits from protein would fall between the 20th and 35th percentile,” Swee continued.

Data from other studies support similar conclusions, including the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), which suggests approximately 15 to 20 percent of dietary calories should be consumed as protein.

“The quality assessment of protein is especially important when we work with patients for weight loss and management. There is a place for plant protein – it has fiber and other nutrients,” she remarked. “But what is the caloric cost of different foods?”

To obtain 25 grams of protein, a person could eat three ounces of cooked, lean beef for 154 calories. To obtain those 25 grams with peanut butter, they could eat six tablespoons for 540 calories, or they could eat two cups of black beans for 25 grams of protein, totaling 382 calories.

“Most people are surprised to know beef only contributes 10 percent of saturated fats to the American diet and most of it comes from grain-based desserts, pizza and cheese,” she adds.

Sharing good news

Swee encouraged beef producers to use available resources to learn more about the nutritional benefits of beef and the importance of protein in a healthy diet.

“Emerging research shows protein, like beef, is associated with positive health outcomes,” she stated.

Consumers would rather know what they are allowed to eat versus being told what they can’t have, and they are looking for specific nutrients, such as whole grains, fiber and protein, she added.

“This puts beef producers at a really exciting moment. We need to take advantage of this because we have an awesome product,” stated Swee.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..