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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Kentucky Beef Council gets creative with cuts of meat to help consumers with rising prices

(Photo from commons.wikimedia.org)

 
By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent
 
With reported beef prices at the supermarket up this summer, the Kentucky Beef Council thinks they have a creative solution to the problem that poses for consumers.
 
Alison Smith, director of consumer affairs with the Kentucky Beef Council, doesn’t believe the price-per-pound has to keep Kentuckians from continuing to grill out this summer.
 
“Even though our numbers are down, we are still efficient in regard to total pounds of beef produced,” she said. “Our cattle have better genetics and a better environment in which to grow.”
 
Smith said there has been a lot of creativity in developing different cuts of beef available to consumers.
 
“We are getting more creative utilizing beef check-off dollars and researching and looking at what’s in the carcass and what we can do differently with it,” she said. “There are a lot of the check-off dollars that go into research and I would hate to see what would happen if we didn’t have it.”
 
According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, “The checkoff is a producer-funded marketing and research program designed to increase domestic and/or international demand for beef…(and) can be done through promotion, research and new product development, and a variety of other marketing tools. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and USDA oversee the collection and spending of check-off funds.”
 
The program produced one of the longest running and most successful marketing campaigns in the country – the “Beef, it’s what for dinner” campaign.
 
Smith said it’s important first to get groceries and restaurants to understand how to keep beef on the menu and in the freezers. Educating consumers is also important in showing them how to keep the beef budget alive, she said.
 
One such program created through check-off money to do just that is called the Beef Alternative Merchandising program demonstrating the good taste of middle meats. By simply cutting ribeyes, top loins and top sirloins in specific ways, small filets and roasts can be created. In fact, the BAM program has created eight different cuts that qualify as lean cuts.
 
Smith said consumers have reacted well to this program and retailers have seen sales and poundage increases which is good news for those retailers, consumers and producers.
 
She added that one of the most important things to remember when shopping is to look at price per serving as opposed to price per pound.
 
“It’s easy to get sticker shock if you’re looking at the price for the entire package but, say you’re getting a family pack or you’re getting a larger portion steak like a flank steak. A flank steak can easily feed four or five people,” Smith said.
 
For more information about beef and how to keep it in the budget, go here.
 
Several years of drought means beef prices per pound are indeed going up, according to new numbers released from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
 
UK cites reports that the number of heads of beef cattle in the country is lower than at any time in more than 50 years – lower than 30 million. The law of supply and demand dictates that a smaller supply when meeting a greater demand leads to higher prices.
 
UK Agricultural Economist Kenny Burdine said there are several reasons for the low numbers.
 
“Over the last several years, we’ve had weather challenges, obviously, with major droughts the last couple of years in the southern Plains, Texas, Oklahoma and last year in the Corn Belt. And, really several of the last few years we’ve had significant droughts in the Southeast,” he said.
 
“Another thing we’re seeing in a lot of areas is competition for pasture and hay ground as grain prices are so high. So, some of that I think is pulling
acres out of cattle production, as well,” said Burdine.
 
In Kentucky, the cattle industry has become strong from a quality standpoint as the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board has made investments in the industry. Kentucky has become the largest cattle producing state east of the Mississippi and in the top five nationally.
 
“I think the Kentucky herd on average is pretty strong, quality-wise due to a lot of investments over the last several years,” Burdine said. “If you look at Kentucky numbers from July, 2007 to January, 2013, we’re down 15 percent and realistically you would expect as we’ve reduced cow numbers, we’ve probably reduced the lower quality cows. That combined with the fact that we’ve put a lot of money into the beef sector, I think our herd quality is very high right now.”
 
The supply squeeze should ease, said Burdine. As many factors have contributed to the decline in numbers, Burdine added that many factors will also contribute in seeing numbers increase. The key factor, he said, will be the bottom line.
 
“The main thing that drives producers’ decisions to expand is profitability,” he said. “It’s going to be a matter of that relationship between production costs and calf prices. Once those levels have returned to profitable levels and particularly in Kentucky when those cattle operations are as profitable as those acres being used for other things such as grain production, that’s when expansion will kick back in.”
 
Burdine pointed out, however, that even if those expansion efforts were to begin this year, it would take a while before larger numbers of calves will be run through the stockyards and onto the dinner table.
 
“If expansion started this year, and that’s a big if because it would take a while to hold heifers back and breed them, it would actually be the fall of 2015 before we actually started seeing larger numbers of calves in the markets. So, I think we are a few years away from seeing larger beef supplies,” he said.
 
Kentucky is likely in a better position than their neighbors to the west due in part to its topography.
 
Roy Burris, UK beef specialist at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton, said he thinks state numbers will hold steady. “Kentucky farmers have leased land, previously used for pasture to crop farmers because of high prices being paid for land leases,” he said. “But, a lot of land here is not
suitable for cropping, so the best use for that land is to continue grazing. Barring any severe droughts, I really think cattle numbers in Kentucky will hold steady.”
 
Overall, however, it appears those supplies will lag behind demand causing consumers to pay the price at the retail level.
 
Burdine said higher prices for consumers is something being seen due to tighter supplies and relatively strong domestic demand, but higher prices could also be attributed to strong export demands seen over the last few years.
 

You may also be interested in reading our story Students have no beef with eating local foods especially when produced in own schools.
 
Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995.

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