Linda Benedict | 11/15/2014 2:31:13 AM
Isaac Sitienei, Basu D. Bhandari, Jeffrey M. Gillespie and Guillermo Scaglia
Grass-fed beef production has recently emerged in the United States as an alternative to conventional feedlot beef, although it still represents a very small percentage of U.S. beef produced. Farmers with an interest in producing grass-fed beef are asking questions about its viability, and those producing it need research information. A study was conducted to determine grass-fed beef producers’ perceptions of the challenges associated with the enterprise, their goal structure and their reasons for selecting the enterprise. The findings are based upon 65 responses from a randomly selected sample of grass-fed beef producers from the Southeastern United States, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. All states were surveyed (384 total responses), but this article is reporting results only for the Southeast. The list of producers was obtained from an extensive Internet search. The two main website sources were Eatwild.com and MarketMaker.
The survey was sent to farmers on August 20, 2013. To participate, respondents were to indicate that they had raised grass-fed beef cattle during 2012. A definition for grass-fed beef was provided at the beginning of the survey to ensure that responses from grass-fed beef producers only were obtained.
Reasons for selecting the grass-fed beef enterprise
The three most important reasons cited were those related to consumer health and the conservation of the natural environment: to produce healthy beef; grass-fed beef production is good for the environment; and grass-fed beef systems are more sustainable than grainfed beef systems (Table 1). Producers were generally in agreement with most of the listed reasons for operating a grass-fed beef enterprise.
Goals of grass-fed beef producers
It is common to assume profit maximization or cost minimization as the only important goal for a firm. However, producer goals are generally multi-dimensional rather than uni-dimensional. LSU AgCenter researchers measured the relative importance of different goals held by grass-fed beef producers by asking respondents to compare pairs of eight potential goals they might have for their operations. The goals “maintain and conserve land” and “produce healthy beef” were most important for Southeastern grass-fed beef producers while the goal “increase farm size” was least important (Table 2). Note that “maximize profit” ranked seventh of eight in goal importance.
Challenges facing grass-fed beef producers
Producers were asked to weigh the importance of specified challenges facing grass-fed beef operations. The long period of time required to get animals to slaughter weight, lack of a clear marketing system, and shortage of processors emerged as the three most important challenges facing Southeastern grass-fed beef producers (Table 3). Producers generally disagreed that diseases and lack of steady demand for grass-fed beef were major challenges to their enterprises.
Results from both the reasons for selecting a grass-fed beef enterprise and the relative importance of goals indicate that producing healthy beef and conserving the environment are two of the most favored goals and reasons for producing grass-fed beef. Reasons associated with the economic aspects of the enterprise, such as profitability and cost, were of lower importance. It appears that some of the most important challenges faced by grass-fed beef producers include developing a clear marketing system, increasing processing capacity and working on strategies to shorten the time to slaughter weight.
Isaac Sitienei is a graduate research assistant in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness. His co-authors are Basu D. Bhandari, graduate research assistant, and Jeffrey M. Gillespie, Martin D. Woodin Endowed Professor, both in the same department, and Guillermo Scaglia, associate professor at the Iberia Research Station in Jeanerette.
This article was published in the fall 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.