Improving Farm Profits by Developing a Niche Market for Green-Certified Senior Calf Beef

2001 Annual Report for LNE00-139

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $112,621.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $40,000.00
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
W. Neil Gillies
Cacapon Institute

Improving Farm Profits by Developing a Niche Market for Green-Certified Senior Calf Beef


Project Overview

Our senior calf beef are raised hormone- and antibiotic-free using environmentally sensitive farm management practices. We are developing a niche market for this beef promoting the values of clean environment, rural lifestyles, healthy food, and the consumption of humanely raised animals. Response has exceeded expectations for the first year, generating sales to over 96 individuals of products ranging from 15 lb. packages to whole beefs. Last fall participating farmers established the Headwater Farms Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) and USDA officially accepted the HFPB label. Partners developed and are implementing a riparian grazing protocol to limit cattle access to streams.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the eight farmers initially involved in the certified beef project six of them will achieve higher incomes within two years and agree to adopt the management requirements of the certified product within three years of the start of this project.

Within two years, at least 150 watershed residents and property owners exposed to the product and concept will support change in farm management practices by purchasing beef produced by participating farmers: 50 the first year and 100 the second year.


Seven of the eight participating farmers provided cattle for the Petite Beef program in the first year, and all received additional income despite the high commodity cattle prices. Initially, 2700 potential customers were targeted and invited to support the farmers by prepurchasing the product and to taste the new product at two events. We quickly exceeded our first year goal of 50 customers, receiving 60 orders in the first five months and 107 orders by June of 2001, with eleven repeat customers. The enthusiasm of customers for the program demonstrated that moving forward on sustainable farm management makes business sense.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


We developed a name for the product—“Petite Beef by Headwater Farms”–and submitted trademark applications for “Headwater Farms,” for “Petite Beef,” and for a logo; approval is pending. The farmers participating in the program formed the Headwater Farms L.L.C., rented office and freezer space, negotiated an agreement with Emerick’s Meats, a USDA inspected butcher, developed a web site, and purchased equipment. The Potomac Headwater RC&D helped fund equipment purchases. We received an USDA label for the Headwater Farms protocol.

We worked with the USDA-NRCS, WVU Extension Service, and the WV Department of Agriculture to develop a demonstration riparian grazing protocol in which a combination of fencing and rotational grazing are used where necessary to exclude or limit access to streams. The protocol is designed to be flexible and common-sense-adaptable for the unique conditions on each farm. Cost share funding was obtained and demonstration Best Management Practices are being installed on three of the farms. The USDA-ARS (Beaver) Pasture Based Beef Project has agreed to characterize the range of fat, tenderness, and CLA content of Petite Beef.

A one-of-a-kind recipe book was created for this product and included with every new order. We produced two “Partners” newsletters designed to inform customers about Headwater Farms’ news and educate about farming practices. Results from a customer questionnaire indicated a strong synergy between the various elements of the Petite Beef/ Headwater Farms story; 91% felt the price reflected the quality and environmental benefits of the product and planned to reorder.

The project has received widespread recognition. It was: profiled in the December/January 2001 issue of the Conservation Technology Information Center’s “Partners” newsletter (70,000 nationwide distribution); received the special 2001 Environmental Award from the West Virginia Environmental Institute (a consortium of environmental agencies, industry, citizen’s groups) for marrying West Virginia’s economic and environmental future; Extension Agent Bob Cheves received the WVU 2001 Extension Agent of the Year award in part for his work on the Headwater Farms program; the project coordinator received the West Virginia 2001 Watershed Network’s Agricultural Award. Articles about the project have appeared in the Charleston Gazette, various organizational newsletters, a number of local newspapers, and on West Virginia Public Radio. The product was presented to over 500 community leaders at the WV Governor’s Buy WV event.

Extension partner Bob Cheves has presented talks in Maryland to the Maryland Beef Producers Association and the Sustainability Agriculture Group, as well as numerous in-state talks. Neil Gillies, the project coordinator, was invited to give a talk on marketing beef using a land stewardship and clean water label at the Missouri Forage and Grassland Council 2001 Annual Conference in November of 2001. Gillies prepared a PowerPoint presentation on Headwater Farms that was presented at the Second Annual West Virginia Sustainability Fair; this slide show is now on the coordinator’s web site.


Bob Cheves

Hampshire County Extension Agent
WVU Extension Service
Peter and Robin Maille

Cacapon Institute
Harvey Christie

Gourmet Central
David Pancake

Hampshire County Development Authority
Steve Ritz

County Agent