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Ensuring quality and business continuity for Minnesota beef producers

 

beef cows

Schmidt’s Herefords of Pipestone, Minn., has been raising beef for four generations. It’s never been easy. “We have winter, we have cold, we have mud,” says John Schmidt, third-generation owner with his wife Joyce. Their adult daughters proudly make up a fourth generation raising cattle. “If you don’t love doing it like we do, you’re not going to be out there,” he says.

It’s a good thing they love it. Minnesota beef makes up 27 percent of the state’s livestock receipts—$2 billion annually—and is 10th in the nation.

But numbers aren’t what keep the Schmidt family on the land. “Quality, not quantity” is their motto. To stay on top of challenges critical to quality, they participate in University of Minnesota Extension beef education.

Assuring quality

“Quality” covers a lot of ground when it comes to raising livestock. It can mean taste, of course. How beef is raised affects flavor.

Schmidt will never forget the first time he tasted brisket, while visiting his sister in Kansas. The next time he had one of his own Herefords processed, he had the brisket saved for himself and smoked by his talented son-in-law.

Quality also means that the beef supply is safe to eat, and economically safe for a processor to buy. Even beef that is safe to eat will be hard to sell if consumers fear it is not. It could take a long time for grocery shoppers to start buying it again after a fear subsides.

brisket slices

This could be the case with diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, which is not in the United States but is found in two-thirds of the rest of the world. The disease does not affect meat quality under normal meat science practices, but it is important to prevent it for the welfare of the animals and the industry. Countries are often subject to trade restrictions to reduce potential spread of livestock viruses.

Quality also includes worker safety, livestock hauling and other pieces of the puzzle in getting that brisket on the table.

“Today’s consumers are more interested than ever before on where and how the food they purchase is raised, which has led to an increased focus on our beef production systems—how we handle cattle, our use of pharmaceutical products, our feed management practices, and our record-keeping systems,” says Melissa Runck, an Extension educator based in Pipestone and Murray counties.

Minnesota Legislature invests in agriculture

In 2018, Extension’s work with beef producers got a boost when Extension hired Megan Webb, an animal scientist who was brought up on an Angus operation in West Virginia. Webb’s research ranges from cattle management to consumer marketing.

Megan Webb, U of M Extension specialist in beef production systems

Her hire was possible because of legislation Minnesota lawmakers approved in 2015 that created the Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Tech Transfer program (AGREETT). Today, 21 AGREETT faculty and Extension educators at the University of Minnesota focus on clean water, crop and livestock productivity, microbial science, soil fertility, agricultural technology, pest resistance, climate change, and more.

One role Webb plays is in bringing more technology and science to the beef industry. For example, Webb is working with developers on the Farm and Ranch Planner, a mobile tool producers will use to manage operations and prepare for biosecurity needs.

“I can help producers learn through Extension and research while helping the University better support an economically important sector,” says Webb.

Workshops and certification

Recently, Schmidt Herefords completed a Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Certification & Secure Beef Supply Plan. After completing the educational program, certificates are mailed to participants from the Minnesota Beef Council. Cattlemen and women are now required to have a BQA Certificate before certain processors will consider buying their beef. Processors want assurance that their cuts of meat will be a desirable product customers can always find. That means no interruptions can happen all along the way from the farm to the processor to the family dinner.

Along with the BQA Certificate, participants develop a Secure Beef Supply Plan supported by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association, the Minnesota Beef Council and others.

Everyone who handles, manages or feeds cattle is encouraged to attend, so Extension has offered some programs in Spanish to reach more men and women who support Minnesota’s livestock operations.

Systems approach connects quality, security and economic trade

“A good consumer experience here at home in the United States, as well as abroad, is key to keeping our beef industry strong,” says Karin Schaefer, executive director at the Minnesota Beef Council and a big believer in collaborating with the University of Minnesota. “The University is a leader in the science of a safe food supply.”

chart showing increasing beef exports from 2005 to 2015 with slight dip in 2015
Strong exports are critical to Minnesota's beef producers.

The Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association’s executive director, Ashley Kohls, is also feeling the benefits of a strengthened relationship between the industry and the University.

“Megan brings a whole system approach,” says Kohls. “I’m a cattle producer myself, but she knows how things work from when a calf is born—and even before it is born—all the way through to that consumer experience of selecting beef at the grocery store.”

Kohls recently spent time in Japan and Taiwan. “They love our leaner U.S. beef and they need to import most of their food,” she says. “But if they are going to pay that premium for high-quality American beef, they need to trust that they will have a reliable supply with no disruptions.”

 

Thinner cuts of beef are economical and tasty

Restaurants and steak lovers are cooking and enjoying thinner cuts of beef. These lesser-known cuts are great for grilling and all year round.

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