Grass-fed and Organic Beef: Production Cost and Profit Potential

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $149,966.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Mary Holz-Clause
Iowa State Unversity Extension
Dr. Margaret Smith
Iowa State University

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: general animal production

    Proposal abstract:

    Marketers in the upper Midwest are challenged to source adequate meat to supply organic and grassfed beef markets. The lag in production capacity from Midwestern farmers to meet market demand is not well understood. Higher prices paid to farmers for market animals in these streams suggest that profits may be greater than with conventional beef. And, many farmers are attracted to the positive social and environmental aspects of the production methods. Missing is accurate information about the costs of producing these market animals. In this project, we will document costs of production for these three specialty beef production and marketing streams: grass-fed, organic grain-fed, and organic grass-fed beef. We will also identify specific production and management techniques currently employed on farms that successfully sell beef into these markets. We will work on-on-one with 30 farmers in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to collect accurate, current production costs and to document methods, techniques, and the knowledge contributing to success of these businesses. With this information we will prepare sample production budgets for grass-fed, organic grain-fed and organic grass-fed beef and create 14 case studies of cooperating farms. We will conduct six field days over two years to highlight profitable, specialty beef operations and will provide outreach updates each year in newspapers, farm magazines, and at state, regional, and national workshops and conferences. Production budgets and farm case studies will be available at several Web sites. With accurate costs of grass-fed and organic beef production and realistic market prices, beef producers and potential producers can use these tools to make better informed decisions about entering one of these specialty beef production streams.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Budget Development
    We will work one-on-one with 30 beef producers in three states; Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin; for two years to organize and document the costs for production from breeding through sale of market animals in three specialty beef production streams: grass-fed or finished, organic grass-fed, and organic grain-fed. We will identify 10 farmers per state, evenly distributed among the three production streams. Many producers in these production streams are calve-to-finish, but others we have identified specialize in cow/calf or the finishing period. All segments will be represented. In addition, we will also document their production systems and the specific practices, genetics, and/or management techniques that enable them to sell into their market niche.

    Project protocols will be tailored to each farm and farm manager, while maintaining continuity of the types of data collected.

    Case Study Development
    There is no one production or management scheme that fits all farms, ranchers, or farm production management styles. For this reason, we will not attempt to provide a one-size-fits-all management summary for these beef production systems. Instead, we will prepare case study summaries of 14 of the participating farms to provide potential producers a cross section of management systems that do and can work. Case studies will include: the size of operations, type of enterprise, yearly schedule of production, grazing system used, additional feeds supplied, animal health program, and beef production statistics. We will also work to identify key factors for each operation that have led to, or are limiting, success.

    Outreach plans for the three states include:
    Iowa: We will provide yearly project updates, one to two each year at the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Annual Conference, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Annual meeting, the Iowa Beef Expo, and/or the Iowa Organic Annual Conference. We will work with local media to provide periodic updates of project results. We will provide information and extend invitations to field events to reporters for the four major agricultural periodicals in the state: Agri News—Iowa Edition, Iowa Farmer Today, Farm News, and the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.

    Nebraska: The major outreach venue will be the Knox County Extension newsletter, the Educator Edition ( This newsletter goes out to 1,200 cow calf producers. In addition, the information will also be available on the Knox County Extension Web site ( This site gets an average of 5,000 hits a month, of which three-fourths are for the newsletter. In addition, information will be extended to the Norfolk Daily News, Nebraska Farmer, and 20 additional smaller radio stations and newpapers that receive University of Nebraska new releases. Project results will be presented at one to two meetings each year, which will include the local grazing series of meetings, the Nebraska Grazing Conference, the Midwestern Holistic Management Gathering, and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society annual meeting.

    Wisconsin: Outreach plans will include summaries on the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture's grazing and organic Web site as well as the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) Web site and through traditional media outlets (the three statewide agricultural newspapers, etc.). We also plan to make yearly presentations at the Wisconsin Grazing Conference and additional grazing and organic events around the state.

    Regional and National Project Outreach

    Production Budgets - We will prepare production budgets for the three specialty beef production streams: grass-fed, organic grass-fed, and organic and provide profitability projections based on current prices offered. These will be available in all three states through the respective University Extension services.

    Farm/Ranch Case Studies - Fourteen cases studies of farms and ranches will be shared online and at statewide and regional beef, grazing, and sustainable agriculture meetings.

    Web delivery:
    Both production budgets and Farm/Ranch Case studies will be available online at Extension Web sites in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, and on the national Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) Web site (

    Press delivery:
    With final project results, we will promote publication in The Stockman Grassfarmer, Wallace’s Farmer and Successful Farming magazines.

    Conference presentations:
    In addition, we will actively pursue opportunities to share the research results with others at the regional Upper Midwest Grazing, and Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conferences and at the national Grazing America Conference.


    Production Budgets: We will prepare budgets for each of the three production models, provide profitability projections based on these budgets and current price offerings. Production budgets will be available as Extension publications in the three states. Production budgets will be available online at three state-based Web sites and the national Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) Web site. Outreach will include a minimum three research updates and six field days each year. Final project results will be presented at a minimum one regional and one national conference.

    Case Studies: We will prepare profiles for 14 of the participating farms. Case studies will also be available online at three state-based Web sites and the national Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) Web site.

    Field Days: six field days will be conducted across the three participating states. A projected 30 people will attend each field event for a total of 180 participants.

    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.