By Gayle Smith

Wyoming beef producers learn exporting their beef overseas is currently in its infancy, but it could prove to be a big market for them in the future. Andrew Carpenter, who is the international trade manager for the Wyoming Business Council, tells cattle ranchers during the recent Southeast Wyoming Beef Production Convention, the number of Wyoming producers who want to export beef is limited, but it will grow in the future as more infrastructure is put in place.

The state is looking to increase its exports, particularly for beef. Wyoming is currently ranked 14th overall in beef production, but it is 49th, only ahead of Hawaii, in total exports. While exploring export opportunities for the state, Carpenter says that Taiwan quickly popped to the top of the list because of its growing economy, and interest in purchasing more proteins, especially red meat. 

“In Taiwan, Wyoming has a lot of opportunity for agricultural exports,” Carpenter says. They are the 10th largest goods trading partner in the US, the 14th largest market for exports, and seventh in agricultural exports. Taiwan has a growing population exceeding 23 million, and very limited ag production. “They are looking for American products.”

The international trade manager sees Wyoming beef becoming a popular commodity in the country. In October, the Wyoming Business Council was involved in shipping beef to Taiwan for a government reception in Taipei. The shipment consisted of ribs and loins to serve about 120 people. The country was pleased with the product, and have requested more Wyoming beef to be shipped by air. “They sell premium beef at steakhouses there for over $100 a plate. That could be a lot of additional value for Wyoming producers,” he states.

However, an infrastructure needs to be established before Wyoming producers can become consistent trading partners. First, cattlemen would have to be willing to sell beef into international markets, taking on additional risk, and putting more effort into moving up the value chain. “By selling into Europe, Asian and Pacific markets, there is added traceability, hormone-free, and other export requirements you need to manage for,” Carpenter explains. 

Producers will also need to work together to establish these marketing channels and find solutions to the challenges they face. One of those challenges is market development. “Wyoming beef is like any other business, and we have to work together as producers to accomplish our goals. Exporting beef takes a lot of marketing skills. Figuring out the rules of exporting is very complex,” he says.

The key is establishing a USDA-inspected beef processing facility within the state that is willing to work with producers who want to export their beef. Currently, only two USDA-inspected facilities exist in Wyoming, and both primarily target local and regional markets. “Finding someone with the capacity and scale to meet the demand is going to take some time,” Carpenter said. “We have to be able to deliver a consistent product, with consistent timing, with more outlets, more restaurants and greater markets.” 

Ranchers who sell beef at a retail level currently have to take the cattle out of state for processing, one rancher pointed out. If large packing facilities like JBS process the cattle and export the beef, they will be the ones to garner most of the premium, he says.

Carpenter admits the people who will benefit first from exporting beef are those who hold cattle and sell them directly to packing facilities like JBS. “There are a lot of feedlots around here who buy feeders and grow them out to fat cattle or retain ownership of them through the finishing stage. They will be the first ones to benefit.”

The state also needs to work on marketing, and building a Wyoming beef brand with more producers. “There’s a lot of different opinions on what a Wyoming state beef brand should look like, and the criteria it’s built around. There is also the question of who owns it and verifies it,” he says. 

A lot of infrastructure will be needed to make exporting a reality. “The best optimal scenario is to get a working scenario. We may have cattle that are born, raised, and fed to finish in Wyoming, then hauled to Colorado for slaughter. It is not essential that they are killed here in Wyoming, but traceability is key because that’s where the premiums come in,” Carpenter said. 

“Our goal is to raise a consistent supply of what countries like Taiwan are looking for – prime beef. What we have are specific things that brand us,” he continues. “They like our Wyoming beef, its flavor, the traceability, open spaces, and the cowboy theme we can provide here. It is a great opportunity, and the challenge for us is to brand it and sell it so there is a premium for our Wyoming producers.”