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Torrington – “Wyoming is admired around the world, more than many people ever know. The cowboy on the bronco on the Wyoming license plate is easily the most popular logo in America,” commented Jay Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute, during the second Wyoming Agriculture Diversification Summit. “I don’t think Wyoming takes advantage of it.”

The summit, hosted Dec. 6-7 in Torrington at Eastern Wyoming College, focused on “identifying strategic action and tactics with national caliber industry leaders and innovators for emerging and developing value-added and specialty agriculture initiatives.”

Lehr said, “I recommend that Wyoming begins to take advantage and brands its beef.” 

Further, he drafted several slogans for the state, including “Wyoming, where tender beef is produced by tough cowboys,” “Wyoming, where real cowboys care for their cattle,” “Wyoming beef, appreciated the world over,” “Wyoming beef, the U.S. answer to Japan’s Kobe beef” and “Cowboys tend Wyoming cattle with the safe affection they have for the land they roam.”

“When you live in Wyoming, you can’t possibly appreciate it,” Lehr emphasized. “We can’t possibly see the forest through the trees.”

Around the world, Lehr noted cowboys are associated with Wyoming, saying, “Wyoming is what people think about when they think about cowboys and the West.” 

Wyoming’s small population is both a challenge and an advantage, and Lehr said, “Collectively, the people in the state don’t get together enough to figure out what the state’s assets are and how to promote them, which is why we are meeting here.”

Ag industry

“Agriculture in general is a big business,” Lehr said. “Wyoming has almost 12,000 farms and ranches, and the average size of those farms and ranches is bigger than any other state.” 

Citing other statistics from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, 86 percent of the ag revenues come from livestock, 78 percent of which is cattle. Sheep and hogs also contribute to the industry, as do hay, sugarbeets, barley and dry beans.

With mining as the number one industry as the state, Lehr said Wyoming should be proud to be a mining state, with agriculture as its third largest industry. 

Globally, Lehr sees Argentina and Japan as competitors for the state of Wyoming, noting that without a USDA packing plant, it will be challenging to be successful and competitive. 

“It’s awesome that Gov. Mead has opened a trade office in Taiwan,” he commented. “Val Murray at Murraymere Farms in Powell has been a great advocate for Wyoming beef. Her farm is near Yellowstone, and that makes me realize a huge part of the agriculture industry that Wyoming is missing – ranch tourism.”

Ranch tourism

In recent travels to Yellowstone National Park, Lehr noticed a huge percentage of the visitors are from Asian countries, each carrying a camera. 

“If we could figure out how to bring those visitors to ranches, they would help promote Wyoming beef and Wyoming lamb,” Lehr commented. 

“In agriculture in general, the biggest problem is we don’t talk to people who aren’t in agriculture about agriculture,” he continued. “The public doesn’t know diddly about what we do, whether we’re running a farm or a ranch, because we never tell them.”

One big way to tell Wyoming’s story, he suggested, is to take advantage of international visitors to the state, particularly those visitors to Yellowstone and other surrounding areas. 

Innovation

With many important innovations moving the agriculture industry forward, Lehr commented, “The most important innovation in agriculture is something called CRISPR.”

He continued, “CRISPR is the way of re-arranging the DNA of any life form. It stands for Clustered Regularly Insertable Short Palindromic Repeats.”

The technology was developed in 1986 by Japanese, Danish and Spanish researchers, and the technology began to be more heavily used just under a decade ago. 

Lehr explained that 40 percent of DNA has sections that read the same frontwards and backwards, making it possible to cut DNA and extract or insert genes, turn genes on or off, improve the health of food, improve its resistance to disease and more.

“CRISPR has been a dramatic breakthrough,” he commented. “This is not unlike genetic modification, except it doesn’t use any foreign genes inserted from one animal to another.”

Cutting edge

In the beef industry, fake meat is an additional hot topic, but Lehr assured that fake meat won’t catch on.

“However, there will be some kinds of meat products – things like chicken nuggets – made in 3D printers,” he said. “These will likely emerge in the next few years.” 

In additional technology advancements, Lehr foresees edible food packaging, edible barcodes and more. 

Three other technologies that will continue to be important to agriculture include drones, robotics and soil monitoring

“Agriculture can use drones more than any other industry in America,” he said. “Amazon will never use a drone to drop a package on our front porches, but in agriculture, we can scout crops and cattle because we can stay within line of sight, work within 400 feet and follow Federal Aviation Administration rules.”

“We will see drones more and more as the years come,” Lehr continued. “We will also see robot pickers.”

With labor challenges, he said robotic picking machines for fruits and vegetables will be essential to the future of the agriculture industry.

Finally, he listed sub-surface soil monitoring as an important technology to help crop producers understand their soil better. 

Lehr said, “A lot is happening in the agriculture industry, and we have to get out there and tell our story.”

Lehr suggested ranchers spend two hours a month telling their story to people who aren’t involved in agriculture.

“Tell them what the real story is about farming,” he commented. “There are 2 million people in America in production agriculture. Imagine what we could accomplish is everyone spent two hours a month telling our story.”

Saige Albert 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..

“Our goal at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is to make beef the number one protein. We do that through all of our programs,” Mandy Carr, NCBA senior executive director for science, culinary and outreach team, says. “We mark the acceptance of proteins every quarter, and consumers do believe that beef is the number one protein.” 

The “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” slogan provides a starting point for many consumers, and consumers who are familiar with the beef brand keep it at the top of their protein list. However, those consumers unfamiliar with the slogan are more vulnerable, says Carr.

“Consumers across the globe are looking at alternatives to their protein choices,” Carr continues, noting that before the last several years, protein alternatives included fish, poultry and pork. “Today, we know that alternatives includes plant-based or lab-based alternatives, as well.”

In countries like Germany and the United Kingdom, the number of consumers who are decreasing their meat intake has shifted. 

“While these companies are looking to mimic beef, how can beef hold its position as the top protein?” Carr asks, noting beef easily wins the fight when compared to plant-based proteins.

Sustainability

Sustainability is often used as a target when plant-based protein alternatives are supported. 

Alternative proteins claim to be superior in terms of sustainability.

“Beyond Meat is a plant-based protein competitor. Their burger or crumble is a pea protein,” Carr says. “In their vision, they tend to play on the emotions of consumer.”
Beyond Meat makes claims like, “It’s worth the fight to transition to a different protein because it’s better for the planet.”

However, the beef industry assesses sustainability using a whole lifecycle assessment. 

“U.S. beef is one of the most environmentally efficient and sustainable when it comes to raising any protein,” Carr says. “Producers are committed to excellence, and they continue to be good stewards of their livestock and the natural resources they are entrusted with.” 

She emphasizes, “When we look at sustainability, today in the United States, U.S. farmers and ranchers produce 18 percent of the world’s beef with only eight percent of the world’s cattle. How do we do that? Increases in efficiency and other characteristics allow us to do this.” 

Carr cites welfare, management, nutrition and genetic advances have all enabled increased efficiency. 

Grain competition

Carr says advocates for alternative protein sources say cattle compete with humans for grain.

“The fact of the matter is, whether we are talking about grass-fed or grain-fed beef animals, we are talking about livestock that spend 90 percent of their life consuming forages and plants,” she says. “Only 10 percent of their lives are spent consuming grains.” 

Additionally, a large majority of the U.S. is not suitable for crop production, meaning ruminant animals are necessary to harvest

Only two percent of arable cropland is used for corn, and two percent of corn production goes toward animal

“That equates to 0.03 percent of the landmass in the U.S. used to grow corn fed to animals,” Carr emphasizes.  

“Cattle have this opportunity to not only graze land that is not highly utilizable for growing crops for human consumption, but they also use the leftovers from crops harvested for humans and continue to upgrade that plant residue into high-quality proteins,” she says.

Nutrition implications

Alternative protein producers also often claim superior nutrition in alternative products. 

“Marketing claims for alternative proteins often only include the good qualities about these products,” Carr explains. “In a consumer’s mind, the argument is about positive attributes. They tend to leave out key pieces that may be negative as related to nutrition.” 

Beef, however, supplies vital nutrients to human consumers of all ages. Carr says, noting, “Calorie-to-calorie and serving-size-to serving size, beef has the highest quality protein compared to the alternatives.” 

Beef’s low sodium and lean nature makes it ideal for heart-healthy diets. 

“On average, a three-ounce serving of lean beef provides 10 percent of the daily value of 10 different essential nutrients with less than 10 percent of the calories,” she describes. “Calorie for calorie, we get the most potential per calorie than alternative products.” 

In more depth, research also supports high-quality protein in weight management. 

To get the equivalent amount of protein as three ounces of lean beef, Americans would have to consume three cups of quinoa, which is over 600 calories. 

“The efficient protein in beef offers is often not portrayed when it is compared to plant-based proteins,” Carr comments. 

Clean labels

Carr also says the trend toward a “clean label,” meaning nutrition labels that have fewer ingredients, favors beef.

“Beef has one ingredient on the label – just beef,” she comments. “When we compare that to plant-based alternatives, they have lots of ingredients that are often very hard to pronounce and unfamiliar.” 

Taste

In addition to being nutritionally superior, Carr says, “Taste is the biggest demand driver for consumers, and beef does very, very well on taste.” 

The satisfaction of consumer perceptions for steak has been steady over many years. 

“Overall, consumers are very pleased with their last steak-eating experiences,” she says. “Consumers have high expectations, but we’re also fulfilling those.” 

Further, Carr comments, “Our competitors are basically trying to be beef in creating their products.” 

However, meat substitutes don’t hit the mark when compared to beef. She says the taste of plant-based proteins is improving, though. 

“In 2018, one alternative company worked toward a goal to have a side-by-side blind taste test against beef,” she says. “Ten years ago, only 10 percent of consumers said the alternative burger tasted like a beef burger. Last year, that jumped to 50 percent of consumers who preferred the alternative burger to beef.” 

She emphasizes, “These companies are getting closer to their goal.” 

Carr presented during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association 2019 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show, held in late January this year.

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..

Because consumers think about as many as 15 to 20 issues as they are making decisions about beef, Rabobank Research Global Strategist for Animal Protein Justin Sherrard says, “It’s complicated.” 

While the issue isn’t an easy one to tackle, Sherrard comments that the beef industry also seems to lack a sense of urgency when it comes to addressing things like sustainability in the beef industry. 

Moving forward

“Who are the people, who are the organizations, who are the companies and who are the farmers that are setting the direction and giving us the confidence to turn issues upside down and say our issues aren’t threats, but they’re opportunities,” he asks, asserting that more leaders are necessary in the beef industry to set the direction of the beef industry for the future. 

“We have a great product, and we should all be proud of it,” Sherrard summarizes. “Lots of people are going to keep eating beef, the market is changing.”

As the market changes, the number and complexity of issues facing the industry will only continue to increase.

“We need to be ready for more change, too,” he says. 

Rabobank’s research shows that global beef production will only continue a steady trend upward in 2019, increasing by several percentage points.

“This is the continuation of a couple of years of growth, and we see more growth ahead,” Sherrard explains. “North America and South America are really driving progress and growth.” 

Driving issues

In the near-term, Rabobank has also identified four issues that drive the near-term future of the industry.

“Consumer confidence is high in most parts of the world in general,” Sherrard says. “Generally, we know that is a good thing for beef consumption.”

However, Sherrard says several markets may be reaching a point of protein oversupply, so consumer confidence is necessary to maintain prices. 

“This is something for us to just be aware of,” he explains. 

Further, though African Swine Fever outbreaks in China and parts of Europe only affect the pork industry, Sherrard sees potential impacts beyond just pork to include seafood, beef and other proteins, as well.

“Finally, if we think about it, we’re quite conscious of two cost of production issues that are starting to weigh in some markets,” he explains. “Feed prices in some markets are going up 10 to 20 percent, and for some commodities, they look like they might go up even further.” 

Labor costs are also rising, he says, which can impact farmers over both the long- and short-term. 

Long-term outlook

Into the next 10 years, Sherrard says generally protein consumption will continue to rise. 

“In southeast Asia, we’ll see a structural deficit where production will be below consumption over the next 10 years, and also, in China, consumption is rising and production can’t keep up with that,” he explains. “These are the key regions that are going to keep importing beef.” 

“It’s very important for us to understand where trade opportunities are in the future,” Sherrard adds.

Important industries

However, to realize impending opportunities, a spectrum of issues impact the outlook for markets, including trade, consumer preferences and competing products. 

Firstly, trade flow may be disrupted as protectionist strategies grow. 

“We should take this quite seriously,” Sherrard says. “The future of trade is not the last 10 years repeated.”

He continues, “Secondly, consumer preferences and the competitive responses in the retail landscape are huge issues that will shape the future of our industry.” 

As alternative proteins rise, Sherrard explains a slew of challenges also hit the industry. 

Beyond just competition for the center of the plate, Sherrard says, “The rise of alternative proteins impacts what people are eating and where it comes from. This is an issue we need to take seriously.”

Potential activity on greenhouse gas emissions – both in opportunities and threats facing agriculture, and the integration of technology in production, processing and supply chains will both “shake the outlook over the long-term.” 

Volatility

“But, make no mistake, it’s a busy world and an unpredictable world,” Sherrard comments. “The changes that we see are happening faster, and it feels harder to judge the future than it has in the past.”

Potential leaders in the beef sustainability movement, for example, could arise from a number of segments and areas in the world, he explains.

“Leadership requires us to look at a variety of issues and to spot the pathway through a barrier, to look at those issues from a glass half-full perspective and find a way to make it happen,” Sherrard continues. “It’s about finding the solution, working together, looking at issues as potential opportunities and building the solution.” 

He comments, “In this fast, unpredictable world, who shapes the industry? Our leaders do. They have the ability to flip problems to opportunities, draw others in and build the partners we need to be successful.” 

Making investments

Beyond just solving issues, Sherrard asserts that making investments in leadership to solve upcoming challenges results in positive outcomes for businesses. 

As an example, investments in leadership should be forward-thinking on issues which allows management of risk.

“Leadership brings with it the ability to maintain or grow access to markets by engaging with consumers in deeper and more thoughtful ways,” he continues, noting that engagement is a key factor in the industry’s future. 

He summarizes, “There is a key and compelling case for more people to step up in the beef industry.”

Sherrard spoke during the October 2018 Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Conference, held in Ireland. 

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..

Douglas – Over the past decade, school nutrition has been a topic of discussion nationwide, but in Douglas, Converse County School District Nutrition Services Director Monty Gilbreath says the solution to making sure students have healthy protein is in partnerships with local producers.

“Schools are looking for ways to make meals more nutritious and better tasting,” Gilbreath explains. “We were looking for ways to improve what we offer to students.”

He continues that traditionally, schools source their protein, in particular beef, through USDA commodity programs or from food purveyor, but local beef is a much more attractive option.

Sourcing beef

Gilbreath explains, in Converse County, they traditionally obtain beef from USDA commodity programs or through Sysco.

“If we run out of the USDA commodity ground beef, I contractually buy it from Sysco at $2.25 per pound,” Gilbreath says. “Either way, I don’t know where the beef comes from, which is important for us.”

A new School Nutrition Pilot Project program was passed by the Wyoming Legislature this year. This program allows school districts to obtain cost-share money to match processing costs for local, donated beef. The animal that is donated must be raised and processed in Wyoming.

Donating beef

“If producers donate beef, the school district pays for the processing at a USDA state-inspected processing plants, the price currently is 75 cents a pound,” Gilbreath says. “We can save money, and students are eating a higher quality beef.”

Frank Eathorne kick-started the program in Douglas, Gilbreath explains. Eathorne donated a cow to the school district, and the district then paid for processing and utilized the beef in their school lunch program.

Gilbreath adds that the effort was the catalyst to a state-wide initiative that passed in the Wyoming Legislature this year.

“We got Sen. Brian Boner involved,” Gilbreath says. “Brook Brockman from the Wyoming Department of Education and I sat him down and asked if we could get a legislative match funding to help expand the program statewide.”

They worked with Sen. Boner to pass a bill, providing for a 50-50 match to school districts on the processing costs.

“The bill passed unanimously, and there is now $25,000 is set aside to pay for processing of donated protein,” Gilbreath says, noting that the funding can pay for pork, lamb, bison, beef or poultry processing. “It’s not specific to just beef. It allows school districts the option.”

Positive feedback

In using donated beef in Converse County’s School Districts, Gilbreath says they have seen a huge difference in quality of their meals.

“Our cook, Judy, really noticed a huge difference in cooking up the ground beef donated by local ranchers, compared to the USDA commodity program beef,” he says.

Typically, in cooking 100 pounds of burger, five to 5.5 five-gallon buckets of grease are produced.

“The fat from the commodity beef is dark in color and cloudy,” Gilbreath says. “With beef from local ranches, we only got three buckets of grease, and it’s almost the texture of olive oil and much clearer.”

“There’s a big difference in the quality and taste of the beef, as well,” he adds. “We were really sold on this after that.”

Local support

Thus far, Converse County School District has seen beef donated from several area ranchers, including Jay Butler, Josh Moore and Larry Steinle. The effort has been fully supported by the Conserve County Stock Growers and Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

“We would love to see as many as 10 to 15 cows a year donated to our district,” Gilbreath says. “We use between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds of just ground beef each year in our district, and we’d like to have the highest quality possible.”

In addition to feeding a higher quality product to students, Gilbreath also says Converse County is increasing their marketing efforts to showcase producers who donate beef.

“Right now, we put the ranch name on our menu and on our website, so everyone knows that the beef is local,” he explains. “Next fall, we will have a Facebook page and will market donations on that page. We want to make sure to promote this program and the producers who are involved as much as possible.”

Getting involved

Producers who are interested in donating beef  to schools need to contact their local school district nutrition services director.

“After they get things set up with the school district, they’ll have to set up processing with a state-inspected processing plant,” Gilbreath explains. “The health inspector has to be on site.” 

“After producers set up a date to deliver the animal, we take it from there,” he says.

Gilbreath notes that cull cows in good health are prime options for donation to school districts, since much of the meat is ground.

“In the future, we see opportunity to use different cuts, such as stew meat, but right now, it’s all used for ground beef,” he says. “We’re looking at other options, too, like using steaks as an incentive or reward for student performance.”

Grant funding will be available this fall for all school districts across Wyoming.

“We hope all schools in the state take advantage of this program,” Gilbreath says. “It will only reduce costs and improve the quality of beef for students.”

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..

Denver – Telling the beef story is not only important, but is also complicated, said Gary Smith, head of the Department of Animal Sciences at Texas A&M University. 

Smith opened the International Livestock Congress, held in Denver, Colo. on Jan. 15, by emphasizing the importance of telling the beef story and providing attendees with useful information on accomplishing that goal. 

“Telling the beef story consists of five parts,” explained Smith. “We will talk about meeting the challenges of feeding the world, take a glance back at the technologies we are using now and have used in the last 50 years, look at what kinds of technology we can see on the horizon and how we can best tell the story of what we do to customers and consumers.”

Challenge to agriculture

Smith began by noting that by tomorrow, an additional 200,000 people will inhabit the earth, and farmers and ranchers will be asked to produce enough food to feed them.

“Farmers and ranchers are going to be asked to produce more food in the next 50 years than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined,” Smith remarked. “We know that world food production will need to increase by 100 percent in the next 50 years, and 70 percent of that is going to have to come from technology.”

He added that the challenge is present, but if agriculture continues trends, it is doable. Food production has increased 145 percent in the last 50 years. 

“If the people on earth remained as hunters and gatherers, we would presently be able to sustain a population on planet earth of 30 million,” he continued. “Today, the U.S. along has 315 million and the globe has 7.1 billion. We feed about 85 percent of those.”

Of the remaining 15 percent, or about 1 billion people in the world, who are starving or hungry, Smith says the majority – 75 percent – are small farmers who lack the knowledge, improved seed, fertilizer or hand tools to adequately feed themselves and their families.

“We have been able to meet the challenges of food and will continue to because of economies of scale and the use of high yielding agriculture,” he said.

Role of technology

Despite the incredible influence that technology has had on developing agriculture and increasing production, Smith noted that there has been resistance to technology for many years, beginning with mechanization and introduction of technologies like tractors.

“Prior to 1948, my dad farmed with mules,” he commented. “People didn’t want us to have mechanization of agriculture, including use of tractors, then, and now they are fighting factory farming, biotechnology, hormones and antibiotics.”

Smith also marked large scale operating as being under fire by many.

“The best scientific analysis of what large scale structure has done says it benefits sustainability, producers and consumers,” said Smith. “Large scale structure takes advantage of economies of scale, which is more sustainable because we use less of everything. It halves the cost of products for the consumer, as well.”

“Why do be believe in large scale structure?” asked Smith. “Because it works.”

Where we use technology

Agriculture utilizes technology in a number of ways, all of which are important to maintaining production efficiency.

“Agronomic technologies include plant breeding, genetic modification, and precision farming,” he began. “Animal breeding technologies that we have and are important include EPDs, gene markets selection and estrus synchronization.”

Smith pointed out that technology use in agriculture is incredibly extensive, and also includes animal health technologies like vaccines and nutrition programs.

“John Lawrence of Iowa State said that if we had to produce beef without the use of modern technology, the cost of a calf would go up $274. The cost of background and stocker cattle would increase $95,” Smith stated, “and if we couldn’t use these technologies in the feed yard, they would increase $155.”

The benefits of technology can also be seen in the costs of production. Prices for organic and grass fed cattle are so high, said Smith, because they cost so much to produce, and while production in niche markets is important, it isn’t practical for feeding the world. 

The beef story

“We must be proactive with our message, rather than reactive,” Smith commented. “We need to talk about our beef story.”

While Smith said, “We are doing wonderful things,” he also noted that there is more than can be done, and social media is one tool for addressing that.

Between using network sites like Facebook and Twitter to blogging and sharing videos on YouTube, Smith noted that, “The results of using social media have been positive and beneficial to our industry.”

However, he also added that too often the agriculture industry is reactive, rather than proactive, which can lead consumers to think the industry is hiding things.

Trust

“Everything we talk about has to do with trust,” he explained. 

Trust is based on confidence, competence and influential others, according to Smith, who added that they must all be used to garner consumer trust.

“Confidence is the belief by the consumer that the person selling a product has the same ethics and values and will always to the right thing,” Smith said. “We use competence – or scientific, technical proof –  to prove that what we say is right.”

Influential others can include people or groups, he explained, adding that it is important that consumers believe the values and beliefs of influential others mimic their own.

“Of the elements that drive trust, Rural Sociology says that confidence and people’s belief that you are selling a product with the same values and ethics as theirs is three to five times as importance as competence,” Smith said. “They don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Transparency

Additionally, in gaining trust, transparency of the industry is important.

“We have to be transparent enough to stay out of trouble,” commented Smith, clarifying that it is important to make sure that consumers don’t think producers are keeping secrets. “Kay Johnson of the Animal Agriculture Alliance said the more transparent we are, the less activists can affect consumer opinion.”

However, on the same token, he noted that there is some danger in being too transparent, which could confuse consumers. Highly technical information is difficult for consumers to understand and counterproductive.

“Should we share every tiny detail?” asked Smith. “No. In all likelihood, you’ll create more of a problem than you will solve.” 

“The overarching theme is that in order to feed 9 to 10 billion people, it isn’t going to be enough to produce safe and wholesome food,” Smith stated. “It is also important to show that farmers and ranchers are accomplishing higher social and ethical goals.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at saige@wylr.net.