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Is Choice the New Select?

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Having the opportunity to attend the Beef Improvement Federation Conference in Oklahoma City with the Noble Research Institute and some of the other Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture was a great experience. Not only did we enjoy the day, we also got to hear some of the current issues and problems different sectors of the beef industry are having. One of the questions asked and the answers given by the discussion panel really made me sit back and think about something people need to consider when thinking about the future of the beef industry and where it is headed.

The question was asked by a gentleman who stood towards the back of the room. He asked whether we are trying to turn beef into the next lobster in the realm of pricing. He went on to ask if this would be the result of the packers paying higher premiums for carcasses that grade choice and prime, and discounting those grading below that, or the feedlots paying premiums for cattle that are black-hided and will supposedly gain well, and discounting those they think might not gain well in their feedyard. Or are we, in a sense, making it so that someone would always have to buy the prime steak that costs a whole heck of a lot more than if someone would typically buy the steak of a lower quality grade like low choice or select.

However, the answer from the discussion panel was resoundingly no. One of the panelists made the comment that in the Beef Quality Audit, consumers stated flavor was one of the top things they want out of their beef product. Many consumers also want, or are actually buying, the higher quality grades at the supermarket; as a result, the demand for those products is going up so packers and feedlots want cattle that will more than likely have a higher quality grade.

The comment that the economist on the panel made after some of the other panelists had chimed in hit home. He said that we want to make it so there is an overabundance of the higher quality graded meats on the market, like prime for instance, so that the price would eventually come down on those products. Ultimately reminding me about who everyone in agriculture is truly working for, the consumer. It does not matter if someone is in a cow-calf operation or if they raise cotton, in the end the steak or pair of jeans bought at the supermarket or mall by the consumer is what pays the bills. Frankly, without the consumer, there would not be a beef industry.

Amanda Mathias is a 2013 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture.