SDSU-led cattle seminar stirs up consumer impact ideas

BROOKINGS, S.D. -- South Dakota State University's Beef 2020 is in the rearview mirror for 2017, but the ideas in the annual beef industry training should help participants look ahead to how they can meet consumer needs.

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BROOKINGS, S.D. - South Dakota State University's Beef 2020 is in the rearview mirror for 2017, but the ideas in the annual beef industry training should help participants look ahead to how they can meet consumer needs.

Coordinator for the program is Amanda Blair, an SDSU associate professor of animal science who also serves as the state meat science extension specialist. SDSU has been delivering a Beef 2020 program most years for about 20 years, training 16 groups of students of about 30 students each. The program is held annually for three days.

"It was initially started because in the beef industry we were starting to see a shift in the way cattle were being marketed," says Blair, who coordinates the event. "In the late 1990s, anywhere from 8 to 10 percent of cattle were being sold on some sort of 'grid' or value-based system where it mattered what was under the hide," she says. "In the early 2000s, that shifted to more like half - 40 to 50 percent. Now, we're looking at cattle being marketed on some grid or formula basis about 80 percent of the time."

Beef 2020 is designed to educate producers on what impacts carcass traits.

"If we're shifting to marketing where things like carcass weight, marbling, rib-eye-area matter, we want to make sure producers what they are, and how they can be manipulated through management schemes."



The hands-on aspects of the program give producers an ability to see what goes on past their farm gate.

They start with some live cattle evaluation, looking at what a cattle buyer might be looking at in finished cattle. Participants try to estimate or guesstimate what might be beneath the hide that is associated with value.

"We also talk about carcass grading, so yield grades and quality grades - how they're assessed," Blair says. "Producers hear a lot about them and understand their importance, but haven't always had an opportunity to look at carcasses and try their hand at it, to understand how those grades are applied." Participants do a sealed-bid "mock" purchase exercise, to compare to what the actual grade is.

Blair says megatrends in beef breeding across the Beef 2020 history have included Beef Quality Audits, which were initiated in the early 1990s, when carcass uniformity was a big goal. More recently, in 2011, the BQAs have placed increasing importance on concepts such as food safety, transparency and consumer satisfaction.

"You see the shift on the challenges focusing more toward the consumer end," Blair says. "The industry is recognizing we need to understand what the consumer wants and be able to produce that and there are avenues for producers make a profit based on traits that vary depending on individual customers."

Katie Anderson, who works in a 250-head cow-calf operation and a 500-head background feeding lot with her father, Bill Anderson, in Plankinton, S.D., attended the event. Anderson took in the education with her boyfriend, Terry Pollard, also from Plankinton. Anderson graduated last year from SDSU, majoring in animal science, and says the education gives her a lift in a time of low commodity prices.

"It definitely makes you scratch your head on where the markets will lead, and there are some stressful times, but we're keeping optimistic for the future and just trying to maintain through the rough years, and for the good ones," Anderson says.


Beef 2020 offers new insights into the different management strategies, and new connections with young producers to use for contacts as they strive to gain premiums for their cattle. "We have all of the genetics to finish them out, and that's what we're hoping to do - hoping to learn more about (finish-feeding) here," she says.

Seeing daylight

Warren Rusche, an SDSU beef feedlot specialist, and one of the speakers at the program, says the current environment is not optimal. "It's going to be really challenging to make sustained profits, but if we can identify some competitive advantages and some niche opportunities from a business standpoint, I think there's some potential there," he says.

Anyone interested in the program can sign up for the program that is expected to be run again in the first week of January 2018. Contact Blair at or 605-394-2236. The cost is supported partially through the South Dakota Beef Industry Council and the South Dakota State University Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations. Cost to the enrollee is $75 per person. Participants can include individuals, couples, students, producers, retailers and curious consumers interested in knowing more about beef products.

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