Friday, December 24, 2021

Recent insights from “Stockman Grass Farmer”


CONCEPTIONS  Beef Cow-calf newsletter               Nov-Dec 2020

Clay Howe         (519) 933- 8431         Route Services, trained Agronomist
Greg Palen        (989) 277- 6031          AI Refresher Training, certified Seed advisor
Sue Palen          (989) 277- 0480          Office manager, Order coordinator


Joel Saladin,  famous owner of “Polyface Farm” in Virginia who writes and speaks on the entire forefront of sustainable farming designs and practices, and has very savvy views on direct marketing of farm production and communication with the consumers who eat our beef, has started a series of editorials in “Stockman” that look at the chief bottleneck in direct beef marketing:  Custom processer capacity.

By background, it appears 2000 workers in large-scale commercial beef processing have tested positive for Covid 19 since March, with 200 requiring hospitalization.     This has disrupted the flow of fresh beef to chain grocery stores and restaurants, as various facilities had to close for a time, and equipment periodically disinfected much more frequently than has been normal.

For a time, we all knew panicked consumers who were visiting local farms seeking food, and encouraging the custom processing sector to “ramp up”, to where now most such small businesses are booked for slaughter slots well into 2021.

Joel’s first suggestion, focused on those processors who have federal inspection and can serve an expanding direct-sale market legally, is to figure out how to kill more, and then the extra out to anyone with the facilities and skill to hang, cut and wrap a carcass (such as deer processors).   Once a federal inspector has observed the killing and inspected the carcass, it can move out.

The next bottleneck became the cooling capacity of custom abbatoirs.   Beef must hang 10 days prior to cutting and wrapping (days longer than either pork or poultry).   

Various larger-scale ranches and restaurants have thus invested in or are investing in setting up their own cooling, cutting and wrapping, and in many cases are locating this as close as possible to the source location of finished cattle—it seems that one of the many factors that affect taste and texture of beef is how long they ride a truck before they are slaughtered.

The farmer who has entered the direct marketing of beef in recent times begins dependent on the capacity of local custom processors to fit newer customers into their schedules.    Learning to do your own processing leads to owning your own coolers for hanging and aging the sides, and could provide long-term financial benefits in reducing these costs.

Market prices for feeder steers and finished steers are more affected by current capacity of finishing lots and the plants that will be receiving these animals.   For a period of time, we can expect a bit of “up and down” as the marketing chain tries to manage supply against demand – but it is clear that for the foreseeable future, consumer demand for beef remains strong and steady.   

Meanwhile, fall sales for show-quality and breeding cattle were upbeat.

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