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Beef Quality Assurance focuses on animal welfare and food safety. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Selling fat cattle? BQA certification will be required soon

Cattle producers and feedyards that sell directly to most packing plants soon will need to be Beef Quality Assurance certified.

Packing plants announced the requirement some time ago, says Karl Hoppe, area extension specialist for livestock systems at North Dakota State University Carrington Research Extension Center. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

Among the packing plants putting the requirement in place is Tyson, which Hoppe says is the main market for fat cattle leaving North Dakota. He has seen a list of 85 North Dakota producers of fat cattle heading to Tyson, including the Carrington Research Extension Center, which sells 400-500 fat cattle to Tyson every year.

Tyson in 2012 launched its FarmCheck program, which includes onsite audits by third-party verifiers. The added requirement for BQA, the company says, is needed to help sustain the industry.

"Today's cattlemen are doing what's right for the cattle they feed. Continuous improvement and sharing the good story is something we all can do to help to sustain our industry. BQA certification allows consumers to better understand and feel good about the beef production story and also allows cattlemen to get credit for the work they do to feed consumers around the globe," Tyson said in a statement.

Tyson also is a main endpoint for fat cattle coming out of South Dakota, says South Dakota State University's Heidi Carroll, BQA coordinator for South Dakota. But other packing plants are moving in the same direction, and certification is "encouraged," though not required at Demkota Ranch Beef of Aberdeen, S.D., she says.

Proper vaccine use is part of Beef Quality Assurance certification.BQA certification focuses on food safety and animal welfare, Carroll explains. The program teaches such things as best management practices, record keeping for feedstuff and medications, best practices for processing and treating, low-stress cattle handling, best practices for transportation, biosecurity practices and more, she says.

"If you've been doing a good job of raising cattle, you'll say this is just a lot of good common sense," Hoppe says, adding that it is "better to be proactive than to get a black eye somewhere along the line."

That doesn't mean producers won't learn anything or that the program just requires checking a box. Hoppe recalls seeing one producer surprised to learn that he had been giving injections wrong all his life. He'd learned to give them in the hip from an old veterinarian and didn't learn that wasn't correct until taking BQA.

While the packing plants only are requiring BQA certification for the feedyards and producers from which they buy cattle, that doesn't mean producers farther down the chain shouldn't consider becoming BQA certified, Carroll says. Backgrounders and cow-calf producers are "highly encouraged" to be proactive and participate, and some feedyards may start requiring their backgrounders and cow-calf operators to become certified. Becoming certified is a good way "to keep everyone bidding on your calves," she says.

"It gives them more marketing options for their cattle," says Ashley Kohls, executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association and BQA coordinator for Minnesota.

It isn't just cattle producers who should be aware of BQA standards; beginning Jan. 1, 2020, anyone shipping cattle directly to Tyson will be required to present training certification, too. That means truck drivers also will need to be certified. Carroll says the BQA Transportation program covers topics like low-stress handling, travel preparedness, emergency planning, regulations and laws related to livestock hauling and biosecurity.

BQA certification is is a nationally-coordinated, state-implemented program. The precursor to the program, Beef Safety Assurance, began in the 1970s, so it's nothing new, Hoppe says. The program is supported by checkoff dollars, which allows training programs to be offered at no cost or low cost.

"It's a good use of our checkoff funds," Hoppe says.

Both online programs and in-person classes are available. Hoppe says he prefers the in-person option, as it tends to be more interactive and shorter. He says there also is valuable information in the online program, but it can take about three hours to complete.

Hoppe says other animal agriculture classes — including swine and dairy — have similar certification programs, so there's no reason the beef industry shouldn't get on board, too.

"We are good stewards of our animals. This is just to maintain that. Not to imply that we're doing anything wrong," he says.

To learn more about Beef Quality Assurance, visit www.bqa.org. Contact your state's BQA coordinator for more information about requirements and training opportunities.

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