The future of Ohio’s beef industry brings tough decisions and hard work

DUBLIN, Ohio – Beef industry experts at the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association convention beef summit were blunt in saying while times are good, the future of the industry is uncertain, and Ohio producers will have to work hard to increase the demand for beef.

The summit focused on the challenges Ohio beef producers face in developing products that are Ohio bred, raised, processed and marketed under an Ohio label.

Moderator Gary Wilson, OCA president, challenged producers to think of themselves as small, independent food producers and not to try to fit into any other category.

“I want you to open your minds and think of yourselves as food producers for the residents of Ohio,” said Wilson. “You’re not the cow-calf guy, or the feeder, the processor or the retailer. You’re a small, independent food producer.”

Wilson says producers in the beef industry will do well in the next couple of years, but he is worried about the industry in six or seven years.

“We are all going to look like geniuses for the next two or three years, because the beef cycle right now is good,” said Wilson. “I’m not worried about the next two, three years – it’s the five, six, seven years after that.”

When Bill Mies, animal scientist at Texas A&M University, stepped up to the podium, he agreed with Wilson’s analysis of the industry.

“It is a great time to be in this business. We’re going to get $80 for fed cattle, and we’re gonna get it soon,” said Mies. “Demand has increased. The only bad news is we did nothing to deserve it.

“People outside of the cattle business have created a great line of consumer convenient products. We also have to thank Dr. Atkins and other creators of the high protein diets. The economy has been good.”

Mies said just because business is good, it is no time for producers to rest on their laurels.

“We have been given a grace period – a rest stop on the highway,” said Mies. “We have the chance to contribute in keeping that demand figure going up. We need to focus on marketing of specification products.”

Mies associated the success of the poultry and pork industries with the brand name labeling in the meat case at the local grocery stores. He wants Ohio producers to move toward labeling beef in the case.

Mies believes building an alliance of livestock dealers, feeders, packing companies and retailers and marketing specification beef products would benefit Ohio producers.

Mies covered many aspects of marketing specification products. He says being able to contract a set volume is a must. “Producers have to be able to deliver equal quantities 52 weeks of the year. That’s why it’s important for us to pull together. This will dictate the size of your alliance.”

Mies also talked about the ‘legend’ of the product. If it’s labeled as Ohio beef, studies have shown more Ohio residents will purchase those products over a generic label in the meat case, said Mies. He also said consumers want to know where it was produced, how it was produced, and whether antibiotics or supplements were used.

“What is necessary in order to succeed in producing specification beef?” asked Mies. “Uncompromising, ruthless, day-to-day, no excuses quality control.

“The alliance is our future, but it’s hard work and no one should enter into a venture with rose-colored glasses.”

Also on the summit panel were Rebecca Singer and Liana Lee of ODA’s division of markets. Singer and Lee gave examples of how other sectors of agriculture have benefited by labeling their product with the “OHIO PROUD” label. Singer said the Kroger Company and Smucker’s are two of the largest supporters of the program.

“(According to random study) 34 percent of consumers would pay 2 to 5 percent more for an ‘OHIO PROUD’ product,” said Lee. “Consumers are looking to buy a logo.”

Dan Frobose, Wood County extension agent, agreed with Lee saying a new alliance, Great Lakes Family Farms, has conducted studies and have found similar results.

Great Lakes Family Farms is an alliance of northwestern Ohio farmers who are producing and marketing high quality beef products. Producers would also like to add value to their locally grown corn, stabilize the exodus of cattle feeding and provide a repeatable eating experience for their customers.

“We are thinking consumer to conception,” said Frobose. “You have to be an innovator in this business. We marked our products up 30 percent across the board and had a great response to this project.”

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