Grass-Fed Beef in the Southeast: from Seed to Plate

Final report for ES16-126

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $83,185.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Mississippi State University
Region: Southern
State: Mississippi
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Brandi Karisch
Mississippi State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Mississippi State University in collaboration with Auburn University and Tuskegee University developed
trainings and hosted a conference to educate beef producers and extension agents about grass-fed beef in
the southeast. The major objective of this program was to deliver educational information to beef
producers through local and regional extension agents to aid in their production of a high quality grass
fed beef product that is currently in demand by local consumers. Agents were  trained in 5 hands on
modules: Forage, Cattle, Harvest and Meat Quality, Food Safety and Legal, and Economics and
Marketing. Agents then delivered this training to clientele in their region. A multi-state grass-fed beef conference that will highlighting management practices from the training program twas held, along with a field day and beef focused workshop. It is
anticipated that through the trainings and conference, practices will be impacted that will allow beef
producers in rural Mississippi and Alabama to improve the profitability and sustainability of their farms
while improving environmental stewardship and management practices. The impact of this program was
evaluated through end of session surveys of all participants designed to assess 1) the relevance of the
topics/speakers at the conference, 2) anticipated use of presented practices and 3) total acreage/area
impacted. This provided needed feedback to adjust future educational programs, and provide
preliminary data on clientele who plan to implement these management strategies.

Project Objectives:

1. Primary objectives: Train the Trainer Programs
Target Audience: Extension agents (regional and county level)
a. To increase the knowledge of trainees in the areas of forage-fed beef finishing systems
b. To increase the trainees confidence in a forage-finished beef product and embrace this
practice as sustainable.
c. To enable the trainees to embrace a new, client base and provide new marketing
venues for this clientele.
d. To increase the trainees ability to assist producers to have a profitable enterprise
through forage management and animal genetics.
e. To provide tools to trainees to have the ability to accept both producers and consumers
into their training program.
2. Secondary objectives: Producer Education Programs
a. Provide a value-added market for their cattle
b. Provide an informed, regional, contact person for farmers
c. Encourage farmers to incorporate beef into their existing crop/forage programs
d. Provide educational resources through course materials
e. Increase economic impact within local communities as farmers will retain or purchase
cattle, supplies, etc., to finish on forages.
f. Teach farmers to optimize genetics and identify animals who will gain and finish rapidly
on forage systems – thus decreasing age at slaughter and environmental impacts.
3. Tertiary objective: Consumer
a. Provide consumers with information to know differences between forage-finished and
grain-finished beef
b. Teach consumers that all beef is sustainable and that management system is a choice
c. Provide consumers with a ‘local’ product, thus improving economic impact on rural
economies

Introduction:

Consumers show their food preferences with their pocketbook. In recent years the demand to purchase
food locally that is raised sustainably has skyrocketed, and beef is no exception (Roosevelt,
2006). Grassfed beef in particular has increased in its popularity, and the southern U.S. is well suited to
meet this demand. Favorable climate conditions allow for almost year round production of forage, but
producers face a dearth of information provided by reliable sources such as University Extension
Services. With the lack of knowledge, many producers struggle to produce a high quality product that
provides the consumer with a good eating experience. Too often, if a consumer has a bad experience
with beef, it may lead to the decision to not purchase that brand or product again. It is vital that
producers have access to high quality education from a source they can trust to aid in their production
of a high quality, consistent product.
The American Grassfed Association defines grassfed as “those that have eaten nothing but grass and
forage from weaning to harvest, have not been raised in confinement, and have never been fed
antibiotics or growth hormones.” In 2007, the Agricultural Marketing Service set standards for beef
marketed using the grassfed marketing claim (USDAAMS, 2007). The standards state that grass or forage
shall be the feed source consumed for the life of the animal, and that cattle must have continuous
access to pasture during the growing season. The standards do allow for supplementation with hay,
haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources, but not with grain or
grain byproducts.
Nutrient content of the forages used in a grassfed beef system can vary widely in nutrient content, and
it is important to consider how these forages will meet the requirements of growing cattle (NRC, .
Often many who desire to produce grassfed beef simply provide access to forage, without considering if
the animals are provided with enough nutrients to grow and become finished. It is important for
producers to make the distinction between grassfed and grass finished, as this may affect consumer
eating experience. An animal that is grass finished has more marbling and typically will provide the
consumer with a more desirable eating experience.
Currently there is little information provided by Universities in Mississippi and Alabama specific to
producers who desire to produce and market a local, grassfed beef product. The Extension Service in
both states does provide information for producers on both beef production topics and numerous
forage production topics. Several other states in the South offer a yearly grassfed beef meeting or
conference, however these meetings do not currently exist in Mississippi and Alabama, making it more
difficult for producers to compile and utilize this information.
The major objective of this program is to deliver educational information to beef producers through
local and regional extension agents to aid in their production of a high quality grassfed beef product that
is currently in demand by local consumers. Agents will be trained in 5 hands on modules: Forage,
Cattle, Harvest and Meat Quality, Food Safety and Legal, and Economics and Marketing. Agents will then
deliver this training to clientele in their region.

Cooperators

  • Andy Sumners (Educator)
  • Amelia Kent (Educator)

Education

Educational approach:

Project director and co-directors consulted with grass-fed beef producers and agents and then developed modules based on their subject matter expertise. In some instances, subject matter experts from participating institutions were tasked with assembling content for modules. Project director then assembled these modules in to a grass-fed beef curricula to be utilized by Extension agents to train clientele. Agents were provided in-service training to become familiar with the subject matter and increase their confidence in delivering the subject matter. A multi-day conference with educational talks and tours was scheduled for December 2017, but the conference had to be altered due to an unexpected snowstorm at the conference location. A field day and tour was held in the spring of 2018 featuring tours of forage plots, pricing discussions, and BQA training for producers. A workshop focused specifically on harvest, marketing, and cuts for producers marketing local and grassfed beef was held in the spring of 2019.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Grass Fed Beef in the Southeast Agent In-Service Training
Objective:

a. To increase the knowledge of trainees in the areas of forage-fed beef finishing systems
b. To increase the trainees confidence in a forage-finished beef product and embrace this practice as sustainable.
c. To enable the trainees to embrace a new, client base and provide new marketing venues for this clientele.
d. To increase the trainees ability to assist producers to have a profitable enterprise through forage management and animal genetics.
e. To provide tools to trainees to have the ability to accept both producers and consumers into their training program.

Description:

A 5 part series of course materials was developed and packed into a training manual for project participants.

Grass Fed Beef Training Manual

Agents in both Alabama and Mississippi attended in-service training to learn the course materials and objectives for the Grass Fed Beef in the Southeast program. 23 agents in Mississippi were trained via a combination of in person and interactive video on August 9, 2017. Two in-service trainings were in held in Alabama. One in fall 2017 (Oct. 10 – Auburn University Beef Teaching Unit) and again in spring 2018 (April 17, 2018 – Auburn University Beef Teaching Unit). There were a total of 28 agents trained.

Grass Fed Beef In the Southeast Conference
Objective:

a. Provide a value-added market for their cattle
b. Provide an informed, regional, contact person for farmers
c. Encourage farmers to incorporate beef into their existing crop/forage programs
d. Provide educational resources through course materials
e. Increase economic impact within local communities as farmers will retain or purchase cattle, supplies, etc., to finish on forages.
f. Teach farmers to optimize genetics and identify animals who will gain and finish rapidly on forage systems – thus decreasing age at slaughter and environmental impacts.

Description:

Cattle farmers and those interested in learning more about grass-fed beef production attended a conference in December of 2017 in Purvis, MS. A combined total of 52 producers, Extension agents, researchers, and industry professionals attend the conference. Unfortunately weather restrictions (unexpected snow in south Mississippi in early December) limited conference attendance (in particular on day 2). As speakers for day 2 were already in place, the second day of the conference was held and offered via livestream on the MSU Beef Extension Facebook page.

The conference agenda was:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

1:00 p.m. -1:10 p.m.        Welcome, Introduction          Dr. John Blanton

1:10 p.m. -1:30  p.m.       Defining Beef Production Systems    Cobie Rutherford

1:30 p.m. -2:30 p.m. –     Growing Forages        Dr. Kim Mullinex 

2:30 p.m. -2:45 p.m. –     Break

2:45 p.m. -3:30 p.m. –     Nutrient Needs      Dr. Brandi Karisch

3:30 p.m. -4:30 p.m. –     Muscle and Fat Deposition (Growth and Development)   Dr. Derris Burnett

4:30 p.m. -5:00 p.m. –     Retail cuts – What is the end product goal?    Dr. Christy Bratcher

5:00p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Taste of Beef  Dr. Thu Dinh

5:30 p.m. -7:00 p.m. –     Dinner

Friday, December 8, 2017

8:00 a.m. -8:30 a.m. –     Legal considerations

8:30 a.m. -9:30 a.m. –     Marketing Grass Fed Beef           Dr. Courtney Crist

9:30 a.m. -9:45 a.m. –     Break

9:45 a.m. -10:15 a.m. –   Developing a Market    Ameila Kent 

10:15 a.m. -11:00 a.m. – Producer Perspectives Andy Sumners and Amelia Kent

11:00 a.m. -11:30 a.m. – Producer Panel

Adjourn

A follow up tour to this conference was held on March  2018, at the White Sands Research Station in Poplarville, MS. 20 producers and Extension agents attended this workshop.

In March 2019, a workshop was held at the MSU Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory focused on beef cuts and marketing for grass fed and local beef producers. 12 producers and extension agents attended this workshop.

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants in the Grassfed Beef Conference in December 2017 were surveyed at the end of the first day of the conference using Poll Everywhere software. On average participants indicated that they owned or leased 92 acres of land , with an average of 73 acres used for pasture or hay production. Participants had been involved in the cattle business for an average of 18 years. Of the respondents 76% indicated the length of the program was appropriate. In ranking the conference topics, 40% indicated the topic of growing forages would be most useful to their operation, and 20% each indicated cattle nutrition, understanding muscle/fat deposition, and the retail cuts section would be most useful. Almost half (46%) of participants indicated that they had already started to implement information presented in the course, and 38% indicated they were highly likely to adopt the information over the next 12 months.

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

79 Extension
6 Researchers
2 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
42 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

42 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
79 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The major outcome of this project was a training program and educational materials for Extension agents to deliver to clientele to provide knowledge and skills in the area of producing and marketing grassfed beef. A slide set and training manual were developed covering the areas of: Forages, Cattle, Harvest and Meat Quality, Food Safety and Legal, and Economics and Marketing. In-service training were provided for Extension agents in both Mississippi and Alabama to become familiar with the material. Agents were provided with manuals, copy of the Southern Forages book, and grazing sticks to distribute to clientele who wish to take the course. This portion of the project will be self-sustaining in the future. 

An additional outcome of the project was a grass-fed beef conference, and several other additional educational events. The conference was well received, however an unusual snow event made actual attendance at the conference lower than expected. Due to this funds were available to support 2 other smaller workshops. A field day was held to focus more specifically on forage trial results and marketing options, as well as a Beef Quality Assurance certification. The second workshop was focused more specifically on meat processing and marketing cuts of beef.

51 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
Additional Outcomes:

N/A

Recommendations:

N/A

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.