ILC 2007: "Thinking Beyond the Fence"
Fence Post Staff Reporter
They say “good fences make good neighbors.” We build fences to provide security, keep cattle in, keep trespassers out and more. Is it possible that not all the fences we build and maintain are in our best interests? This question brought about the theme of the 2007 International Livestock Congress (ILC), “Thinking Beyond the Fence.”
No doubt there are benefits to fences, however they can also be limiting if we become too comfortable with them and take their limitations for granted. It takes a lot more effort, but when you think beyond the fences in your mind, ideas and conversations like those found at ILC 2007 are abundant, and just the beginning.
The 2007 International Livestock Congress was truly a historic event. Aside from the facts that it was the first ILC hosted in Denver, it coincided with the National Western Stock Show, and had attendees from as far away as Australia ” the ILC had speakers, ideas and attendees of an extraordinary caliber. World renowned speaker and animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin kicked off the ILC at the NWSS by giving a talk to a packed room. On Jan. 9, the ILC moved to the Renaissance Denver Hotel to reconvene. After a good morning welcome from John Patterson,
Ph.D. from Montana State University, Dr Tom Fields moderated a packer panel.
Packers from Cargill, Tyson, Swift & Co., and Coleman Natural Beef were on the panel to give their perspective on following market and consumer signals. When asked each packer’s vision for their organizations in the next five to 10 years, answers varied from seeing larger and fewer plants with more globalization and alignment among all the processes, to many smaller and regional plants that would be located closer to the communities they served. While their views for their organizations differed, all the packers agreed they needed to be listening to the demands of their consumers.
Members of the panel all agreed that getting more information from and responding to the demands of the consumer are the keys to success for both packers and producers. They agreed that consumers are demanding a product that can only come from a smaller carcass size. Producers in the audience were not excited to hear this news, and wondered how they could make a smaller carcassed animal affordable. It is easier to spread production costs over many pounds for the producers, and from the packer’s perspective it is more efficient to run heavy carcasses through their plants. When push comes to shove, it’s the consumer who has to find the product they want, and they don’t want huge rib eyes or giant steaks that cover plates. The consumer is looking for an overall enjoyable eating experience, and they are willing to pay a little more for the quality (and convenience) they are looking for. Was there an easy answer? No, of course not. But in a consumer-driven market and society, the message was clear. The industry is on the edge of a great precipice, and changes are coming fast.
Everyone from the cow-calf producer to the feedlot and the packers are going to have to look at their processes and figure out (with a little help from experts) how to run things a bit differently in order to deliver the product for the customers.
“Respond to the consumer rather than react to complaints,” was one recommendation. It was educational, and set a tone for the day. Looking beyond the fence was not just going to be the motto ” All in attendance were going to have their limits pushed.
In the second session where a producer panel from around the world responded to the packers, the ever-present topic of animal ID came up. Animal identification is elective in the U.S. right now, but many producers on the panel thought it should be mandatory. In Japan, a consumer can scan a barcode on a steak in the supermarket using their cell phone, and see a picture of the farmer and the land the animal in that package came from. Their animal identification system was never voluntary; neither was Australia’s. David Palmer, the Managing Director of Meat and Livestock in Sydney talked about how his country has never had any option other than satisfying consumers. Australia ships meat to 109 different countries around the world. They have had a mandatory ID program since the 1960s. He said his country looks at animal ID as an insurance policy. The money spent on the ID program and cleaning up diseases was recovered within about four months of exporting their animal products.
Phil Seng, president of U.S. Meat Export Federation in Denver agreed.
“International governments are motivated by consumers and politics,” he said. “How well we cooperate will determine how well we succeed.” Adding a bit of light to the discussion, Palmer added: in this industry, “change is constant, growth is required, and misery is optional.”
Meat Science 100, a segment of ILC originally billed as a “hands-on” seminar, had to be taught instead using slides and a lot of imagination. It seems the Renaissance Hotel was not equipped for hanging beef carcasses in their ballrooms. While the pictures were two-dimensional, the excitement over their content certainly was palpable.
Dr. John Scanga of CSU showed audience members there was much more money to be made from the carcasses we already harvest. “There is a huge value opportunity in non-muscular items,” he said. Organs which have little to no value in the U.S. can be extremely valuable in the right markets. For instance a tongue will go for a little over $1 a pound in Denver, while in Tokyo it is worth over $12 a pound! Dr. Scanga suggested the industry move its focus from the current trend of forcing carcasses into pre-existing orders. He recommended that carcasses be broken into smaller and more usable products that perform like the best-selling center cuts. Essentially, dissect the muscles into special cuts of beef like the “Flat Iron steak.” This will take more time and skill, but there is extra revenue to be made.
Dr. Scanga cautioned that not every animal that comes though the packing house is ideal for this extended fabrication process. Dr. Scanga and his team have a formula that can be found on their website http://www.beefcutoutcalculator.colostate.edu to determine if an animal is better off being processed the “usual” way into the typical cuts, or fabricated further into these specialty cuts. While each specialty cut, organ, and extra part adds pennies, nickels and dimes to the value per pound of the animal, those coins add up quickly to dollars. While the expertise and extra labor may be expensive, it could end up being more expensive if we don’t take advantage based on the international demand and markets.
The afternoon breakout sessions offered topics including age verification, animal ID, managing wildlife for profit, minimizing risk management on the ranch, drought management, and prevention and certification. While I could not attend all six sessions, I do have the speaker’s notes readily available at the Fence Post. Please contact me at (970) 686-5691 ext 11727 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in getting a copy of the notes.
Consumer demand, new cuts of beef and value-added products from carcasses, smaller carcasses to produce smaller cuts, improving the eating experience for beef consumers, international shipping of meat ” limits of all kinds were tested at the 2007 International Livestock Congress.
Over 20 different states and seven different countries were represented at the ILC. Not everyone agreed on any given topic, but everyone left knowing a little more than they did before. At the end of the day, as participants headed to the National Western Stock Show for dinner and a rodeo, discussions were abundant on the day’s topics.
Earlier in the day, before he began moderating, Dr. Field had addressed the audience.
“The fact that you are here speaks to the soul of our business.” He commented on the number of young people in the audience and encouraged them to talk to the older generation in the business. His hope was that “each young person was equal to the inheritance they were going to receive from the industry people who have led the way, worked, and persevered over the years to be able to leave an inheritance.”
By the end of a day of different perspectives and “looking beyond the fence,” it seemed that everyone in attendance would return to their segment of the beef industry with fresh eyes, and continue to persevere for the rich inheritance the beef industry will give to its new leaders, its country, and the world.
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