Recently I attended the Tiffin Conference in Lethbridge. At the conference were two speakers with an important message about the future of the cattle industry. The speakers that interested me the most were: a feedlot operator near Lethbridge and a representative of Nilsson Brothers Inc. Although each discussed different aspects of the cattle industry, their presentations had a common theme — connecting with the consumer. More importantly these two individuals highlighted a very serious problem in the cattle industry. This problem is the breakdown in the flow of information from the producer to the consumer and from the consumer back to the producer. The consequence of this breakdown in communication is the inability of producers to make informed decisions about managing the quality of their product. This is not only in regards to determining what the consumer wants but also how to ensure the consumer is getting a quality product. To illustrate my point let me ask you the following questions:
1) Do you have a genetic profile of your bulls and cows?
2) How well do your calves/yearlings do in the feedlot (daily rate of gain, feed conversion rate and frequency/types of diseases)?
3) What are the slaughter characteristics of your cattle (the carcass yields and grades)?
4) How does the consumer rate your beef in terms of tenderness and taste?
5) Does the consumer know about how you raise your cattle?
If the cattle industry is to produce a quality product at a profit it will become imperative you, the producer, begin to track your product from the time it hits the ground to the time it is sitting on somebody’s dinner plate. You may not realize this but your product is utilized by four distinct consumers. The feeder/ backgrounder is the first consumer. The next is packer, then the retailer and the ultimate consumer is the person who buys your product in a store or restaurant. It is very foolish to believe once that animal is on the truck it is no longer the producer’s responsibility. The producer bears the ultimate responsibility for the quality of product each of these consumers buy.
It is approaching the point where individual animals can be tracked through each step in the production process (feeder, packer and retailer). It is this tracking process that will give the producer information on the performance of his cattle after they leave the farm/ ranch. However, for this system to work the producer has to realize he has to pay for this information. It is unrealistic to expect feedlot operators, packers and retailers to invest in the technology that will provide the producer with this information without a realizing a financial return.
In addition to gathering this information, the producer has two more steps. The first step is developing a genetic profile of his herd. Although environmental factors play a role, genetics still lays the foundation for the economically important traits (daily rate of gain, feed conversion rate, carcass yields, carcass grades and tenderness). The producer must then have an efficient method for selecting those animals possessing the desired genetic traits. Perhaps the most effective method is developing a genetic profile of the cow herd. In this manner it becomes possible for the producer to use information from the feeder, packer, retailer and consumer to effectively improve the quality of his product.
The second step is maintaining an aggressive marketing strategy. Although the industry has an aggressive marketing strategy, I believe it is not aggressive enough. The industry needs to do more in terms of “connecting” the consumer with the producer. It is one thing to promote the product; it is another to promote the producer. In other words, give the consumer a chance to interact with the producer. In this respect the “Raised Right — Moving Alberta Beef Forward” ad campaign is a step in the right direction. Once again the cattle industry has an excellent way of “introducing” producers to the general public. Perhaps the industry will take the idea one step farther and encourage producers to interact with consumers on a one-to-one basis.
The consumer wants a quality product and will pay a premium for that quality. The Canadian beef industry has the ability to produce a product that is better than any other. This is not only due to the high standards the industry has set, but also because producers take pride in their product. However, to maintain existing markets and open new ones, producers have to embrace the latest in information technology. In other words, the next time you buy a box of ear tags don’t complain about the price or inconvience, sit down and find a way to tap into and utilize the information these tags can generate.
Hyland Armstrong is a retired rancher from the Cypress Hills Alberta. He can be reached at [email protected]or 403 528 4798.