Page 3: Market Research

Proposed Production Standard for Grass-Fed Beef

My informal discussions with cow-calf farmers, feeders, and packers near Omaha and Des Moines suggest some interest in grass-fed beef. However, both buyers and sellers are hesitant. Buyers need reasonable estimates of the production potential, quality and the identities of the producers. Producers need forward contracts with experienced buyers. Both groups need production standards.  

Although production standards for organic beef are in place, the beef industry needs a systematic way to increase the number of quality grass-fed cattle – without the expense of organic certification. Quality grass-fed herds can be moved towards organic in the future if consumer research is positive. My proposed standard will also address the grain versus forage issue and medications. A clear production standard is the first step toward evaluating consumer demand for beef from producer-owned regenerative farms and ranches.

A Sliding Production Standard for Grass-Fed Beef

A sliding grass-fed standard could be based on existing standards for natural beef. According to South Dakota State Extension Beef Specialists, “…most natural-beef programs have generally adopted “never-ever” policies that are in line with their customers’ demands. Never-ever signifies no growth implants, no antibiotics (including ionophores), and no animal by-products in the feed.” I suggest expanding the natural-beef standard as follows:

Step 1 “never-ever” cattle would be managed without genetically-modified feed and forage. Feed and forage production methods would not be defined for these “never, never, never” cattle.

Step 2 beef would be produced with Type 1 methods plus defined amounts of conventional feed and forage expressed as a percentage of the total diet from birth to harvest. Feed and forage production methods would not be defined.

Step 3 beef would be produced using Type 1 methods plus defined amounts of organic feed and forage (transitional or certified), again expressed as a percentage of the total diet. 

Step 4 cattle would be certified organic at birth and raised under Step 3 standards.

Step 5 organic beef would be certified as one-hundred percent grass-fed.

Business Plans

As explained on Page 2 of this website, we intend to organize a network of commercial-scale cow-calf farmers and ranchers to supply calves and fat cattle, as described above.

Each farm and ranch will have a business plan designed to attract investors to profitable operations than can be sold to young producers. Each plan will be contingent on forward contracts for the sale of specialty and organic beef and on securing investor backing. 

Consumer Research Process

Once sufficient production capacity is in place, we intend to begin a rigorous consumer research process. This process starts with focus groups to clarify the production standards and gather comparison data on the taste of grain and grass-fed beef. Next, consumer surveys will verify the focus group results and set initial price points. The survey results will be tested at the wholesale and retail levels using sales and scanner data. This standard can be modified to determine how beef and forage genetics affect sales. 

I can be reached by telephone at 402-317-2639 and by email at js@raisedfree.org.

Thank you.       

Posted 05-29-21