By Kindra Gordon

The 2019 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show held in New Orleans, LA, Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 2019 brought an array of comments on industry issues. Here are snippets from several presentations:

1. Bill Thoni, vice president of cattle procurement with Cargill, noted that the quality of U.S. cattle today is “outstanding.” He reported that on average about 80% of cattle coming to market are in the top two quality grades of Prime and Choice, with 7 to 10% of carcasses reaching Prime. “The quality of our cattle today has never been this high.” However, he expressed, “The caveat is we are fat as an industry. The amount of yield grade 4’s was historically 10% and is now 20 to 25%. We are going to have to deal with this down the road. That’s inefficient product.”

Cargill sustainability director Heather Tansey also advised Beef Quality Assurance certification to everyone in the industry. “It’s our opportunity to show our consumers we care about doing things right,” she stated.

2. A panel discussion on traceability highlighted the efforts of three current pilot projects in Kansas, Florida and Texas. When the question was asked, “How do we get producers to understand the importance of traceability?” Ross Wilson, chief executive officer of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, stated, “Can I use the word mandatory,” to which the room saw spattered applause from attendees. Wilson continued, “We’ve been talking about this [traceability] for 20 years. At some point in time the industry must make tough decisions or we will be here 10 years from now having the same discussion.” He acknowledged that there are decisions that must be made as to how a system will work and which technology (high or low frequency) would be used, but concluded, “We are behind nearly every other beef producing country in the world [on traceability]. It’s difficult, but it’s not rocket science.”

3. Regarding international trade, NCBA’s Kent Baucus provided an update expressing that getting Congress to ratify the new U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a top priority.  He noted that Korea is one of the best success stories for beef exports in the past year, and eyes are on growing access and reducing tariffs in Japan and China. Of the potential that exists, he reported that the U.S. Meat Export Federation estimates China could be a $4 billion market for U.S. beef in the next few years if trade barriers are removed.

Also on the watch list is a beef trade agreement with the United Kingdom, which is set to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019.  However, formal trade talks cannot begin until Brexit occurs. As the fifth largest economy in the world, the U.K. represents sizeable market potential for the U.S. The U.K. imported $1.7 billion of beef in 2018, but the bulk (86%) of that came from other European Union countries which offered non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC).

Global AgriTrends economist Brett Stuart expressed concern over Asian Swine Flu (ASF), which he reported is “completely out of control” in China. Stuart shared that it could be as many as 10 million hogs killed in China from the disease, which could result in their increased reliance on pork imports as well as beef and poultry to meet protein needs of their massive consumer population.

For the U.S. Stuart said, “If we can keep it (ASF) out of the U.S. our fortunes change; if we have it, all bets are off.”

4. On the retail beef marketing front, efforts are continuing to market innovative products including Beefshi – a spin-off of sushi – which was initially launched in 2018. For 2019, regionally inspired flavors have been created with input from state beef councils and beef checkoff funds. These include the St. Paul roll representing Missouri, the Dansk roll representing Minnesota, the Taco Maki representing Arizona, the BeefyWecky Maki representing New York, the Muffarolleta representing Louisiana and the Beefy California roll. These items and recipes will be showcased to retailers at the Annual Meat Conference in March. 

The ChuckKnowsBeef campaign is also continuing. Powered by Google Artificial Intelligence, Chuck (available for download at ChuckKnowsBeef.com) can provide information found on Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. through the ease of your computer, mobile phone, Amazon Alexa or Google Home Assistant. Efforts to expand Chuck’s use by consumers include Pandora radio ads, YouTube videos and getting more meat case retailers to use Chuck as a resource at the meat case and butcher counter.

Additionally, beef checkoff funds are being used for a new effort called The Drive, which aims to better connect and communicate with producers via print, online and social media channels. Producers can subscribe to print or email copies of the monthly newsletter at DrivingDemandforBeef.com.