On the Blog

Sustainability in the beef industry: Where do you stand?

I like to focus my blogs around timely nutrition and management topics for beef cow-calf producers whenever I can.  My motivation is mainly to provide useful information that can help keep beef producers in business today and in the future.  However, I thought I might take a break from that theme with a few observations related to the “Sustainability” term that keeps coming at us with increasing intensity.  It certainly is not a recent term for the agriculture industry as it was considered a new concept back in the “80’s” when I was a County Agent in ND.  In fact, an Australian Scientist by the name of Gordon McClymont, gets credit for it when he first used it in a book published in 1980.  It has been tossed about since then with considerable discussion as to how to actually define the term.

When dealing with all of the change that comes at us from the environment, markets, governments, climate, etc. how can we define what is sustainable at any one point in time?  What we think is sustainable today, may suddenly become unsustainable, or obsolete, due to any one, or more changes observed in these previously mentioned factors.  The world is a very dynamic place and coming up with ways to out think all of the potential factors that can impact beef production is a tall order indeed.

Might I digress a bit as we think about the future of beef production.  I attended a two week mini MBA course earlier this fall that included attendees from all parts of our parent Alltech company from around the world.  We reviewed a number of case-studies.  Some were from within Agricultural and some outside the industry.  There were a couple of case studies that looked at the beef industry and where it might be headed in the future.

One of these studies focused on how segmented the beef industry is in the US from cow-calf production, through feeding, processing and ultimately retail.  Especially when compared to poultry or swine protein industries.  Most everyone had opinions on how each of the segments might work better together, to help improve efficiencies, but as long as each of the down-stream segments profit from the previous link in the chain, it will be difficult to make progress in efficiencies when trying to meet consumer demands.  Some of those demands include sustainable production practices.  How passionate consumers are about the sustainability of the beef they are wanting to eat is probably yet to be seen but there are a number of organizations who are monitoring the demographics of these consumer preferences to help better predict the future.  Suffice it to say, the younger the generation, the higher the concern for sustainability.   Ok, so that is looking at young consumers who will be more influential as their numbers increase in the future.  More to come on that younger millennial generation.

Probably the most interesting case study was that which looked at current technology investment for producing tissue culture beef.  Yes, there are very high profile investors, with familiar names that are putting significant resources into developing beef products from tissue culture technology.  There was significant debate among the group as to this direction of protein production and even if deserves any kind of merit for future consideration.  Nonetheless, it is a factor that we all need to consider.  Some of us, but probably not all of us, may not see this type of technology get much past a few media displays in the efforts to produce an affordable, wholesome, palatable double cheese burger from a petri dish that appeals to the palate.  With all of the social and environmental areas of concern associated with ruminant animals by consumers who have lost all touch of modern agriculture, the resources put towards these efforts should not be shrugged off or dismissed so quickly.

Concerns with animal welfare, greenhouse gas emissions from grazing ruminants producing methane gas, competition for fresh water use or encroachment on wildlife habitat, etc.   You can probably see that to a generation of individuals with minimal background or familiarity to current agriculture practices, optional methods of accessing protein in their diet might appeal to them.  And at the same time feel that they are saving the planet by switching to a petri dish entrée.  Please don’t think of me as an advocate for this type of animal protein production as I really do see the value of our current livestock industries and the protein we provide to the growing masses.  I do though, want to point out that sustainability of our current system has a number of areas where we need to make sure we are making progress in using all of our resources wisely for the Animal, the Consumer and the Environment (ACE).

That ACE principle is one that guides us when developing products such as CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements.  Providing protein supplements that capture more energy from low quality forages cattle are consuming, managing barrel placement for optimizing pasture grazing or holding cattle off sensitive riparian areas, in addition to the use of the biodegradable BioBarrel® container, are a few areas where we are working to help provide sustainable solutions for the beef industry.  If sustainability is becoming more and more a part of your operation, I invite you to look at how CRYSTALYX® can help you meet your objectives.