Producers from all aspects of beef production should set annual goals to make improvements to their operation. Often times, these goals relate to increased efficiency, productivity, improved genetics, increased weight gains or higher grading feeder calves at harvest. Although these goals are essential to efficient and profitable production, there is one goal you should never forget – you, the producer, are creating a product that will ultimately land on someone’s plate to provide a nutritious and enjoyable eating experience.
An economic recession, decreased cattle numbers, and increased commodity prices are variables which have caused volatility in the cattle market over the past several years. Another variable that the beef industry must never lose focus on are consumer preferences and demand. As the beef industry places greater emphasis on the end-user’s needs and desires, it has become increasingly important to recognize these consumer trends both at the food service and retail level. The beef industry has responded to the growing desire for high-quality beef through genetic improvement and breeding changes designed to increase the percentage of cattle grading USDA Choice and Prime. This is very important as it relates to increasing consumer confidence and interest in your product. You, the cattle producer, can be an effective connection between the farm and the consumer by telling your story of growing wholesome food in a humane and sustainable manner.
The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program was developed to educate producers through a uniform certification program. The BQA program is a best management practice program developed to educate producers on effective and ethical ways to make efficient management decisions for their herd. Topics include effective culling measures, bull selection, and proper animal husbandry. The information provided by the BQA program can help the producer become a better advocate of the efforts made to safely and ethically raise beef cattle for food. Many hot button topics are covered to educate you on how to explain your management decisions in a professional way. Obtaining the certification shows that your farm, your family members, and each employee has an interest in doing things the right way. Today’s consumers not only care about the safety and quality of the food they eat, but also how it was raised. More and more restaurant chains and food wholesalers are searching for suppliers who can assure them of the humane treatment of animals. With BQA certification, you have a national standard and certification.
Consumers also want to know that the farmers and ranchers are producing their food in an environmentally friendly manner. Because 98% of the population has lost connection to the farm, they have more concerns than ever that farm land is being cared for the right way. The Florida Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMP) program is another example of a voluntary program that farms can enroll in to show they are farming using the best practices to protect ground and surface water quality. Once enrolled the Florida Department of Agriculture verifies good farming practices are being followed. Florida Farm Bureau has created a program to showcase farms that have enrolled in the BMP program called the County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship (CARES) award program. By highlighting individual farms and sharing their stories consumers are more aware that not only do Florida farmers raise good food but are also good stewards of their land.
Make an effort to keep up with current current consumer trends. Consumers are more concerned than ever that their food is wholesome, nutritious, safe, and locally sourced. For producers, this creates a perfect opportunity to educate consumers about your best management practices, and the difficult decisions that are often made by cattle producers. Consider opening your farm operation to visits by local citizens. Agri-tourism is growing in popularity and many schools, civic groups, and consumers are increasingly taking advantage of opportunities to learn exactly where their food comes from. Agri-tourism provides a platform for them to hear the facts about how their food is grown, processed, and distributed from the source to their plate.
Take time to learn more about the business and science of beef production. Now, more than ever, the tools to be successful and profitable in the beef cattle industry are within reach of every producer. New skills can be learned or enhanced through involvement with local, state, and national educational initiatives. Visit other producers to discuss best management practices, trials and errors, and share ideas to help each other. You can take advantage of local and regional field days hosted by UF/IFAS Extension or other Land-Grant Institutions to learn more about the latest technologies and practices being researched. State and national cattle producer associations provide great platforms for cattlemen to come together and discuss the issues that affect them the most and how to be proactive. It’s important to note that your involvement in any event or association can help you become a more effective advocate for the beef cattle industry.
Recommendations for strengthening your connection to consumers include:
Make an effort to keep up with current current consumer trends
Get certified through the Beef Quality Assurance Program
Enroll in the Florida BMP program to have FDACS verify that you are a good steward
Take time to learn more about the science of modern beef production
Join and become active in farm and ranch organizations such as the Cattlemen’s Association and Farm Bureau who will work with you to tell the positive story of modern agriculture.
Be willing to host consumer groups through organized tours. Seeing first hand is believing. But when they come, be ready to share your good story and be willing to listen to their questions and concerns. If they make the effort to come and learn, you also have to be willing to try to address their concerns.
For more information check out the list of available publications from the University of Florida, and the National BQA website, BMP Program, and contact your local County Agriculture Extension Agent for specific learning opportunities planned for your area.
Florida Cow-Calf and Stocker Beef Safety and Quality Assurance Handbook
National BQA Manual
National Online BQA Certification Course
Florida Agricultural Best Management Practices
Florida Farm Bureau CARES program