Louisiana MarketMaker and Forage-Fed Beef Production

Linda Benedict, Cooper, Todd, Westra, John, Hinson, Roger A.  |  11/13/2014 9:46:38 PM

John Westra, Todd Cooper and Roger Hinson

A “market maker” is usually an individual or a firm ready to buy and sell stock on a regular basis at a publicly quoted price. This person helps buyers and sellers connect so as to “make” the market. In a similar manner, the Louisiana MarketMaker website connects buyers and sellers of food. The Louisiana site is part of a national MarketMaker website, a partnership between land-grant universities and state agriculture departments that features food products from across the country.

MarketMaker has its origins with the Illinois Cooperative Extension Service working with livestock producers trying to sell their meat in Chicago area meat markets and grocery stores. In response to the difficulty they experienced in identifying likely buyers in Chicago, and in meat market buyers trying to contact livestock producers, extension personnel devised the MarketMaker program. The website was created in 2004 by a University of Illinois team to connect farmers with economically viable food markets.

From those beginnings with Illinois beef cattle producers, it has evolved into one of the most extensive collections of searchable food-industry-related data in the country, with 20 states participating. Over the past decade, the website has been continuously updated so that all the information can be mapped and queried by the user, including most recently apps for smartphones to locate producers or buyers in the MarketMaker database.

The LSU AgCenter joined the MarketMaker program in July 2010. Initial funding to help support the program in Louisiana was secured in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which added further strain to the shrimp and fishing industries along the U.S. Gulf Coast that had been struggling following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Though initial funding and efforts were focused on the seafood industry, outreach and extension efforts were directed to all producers, ranchers, brokers and buyers of food in Louisiana. As a result, Louisiana has consistently been ranked among the top three state MarketMaker sites in the country in terms of website traffic and unique users. Nationally, four of the top 10 most viewed MarketMaker businesses are from Louisiana.

Of the nearly 500 farmers and farmer’s markets registered on the Louisiana MarketMaker website, there are 23 beef cattle producers with 13 identifying their operation as grass-fed or grass-finished beef. To understand how these producers market their beef and to determine how MarketMaker is inte grated into this marketing program, LSU AgCenter staff interviewed several beef cattle producers. Following is information on two farms.

Gonsoulin Land and Cattle, New Iberia
Since the late 1700s, the Gonsoulin family has been raising cattle in south central Louisiana. The current generation of cattle producers formed the Gonsoulin Land and Cattle LLC in 2006. They aim to produce quality grass-fed beef using no antibiotics or growth hormones and try to conserve natural resources by following land and water conservation practices from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. All of their cattle are raised within an intensively grazed pasture system. Additionally, they work their cattle on horseback, which results in a low-stress, low-pressure environment. Though this may be more labor-intensive and time-consuming, they claim the cattle prefer the decreased noise levels and gentle handling. Overall, they view their system as good for the cattle, the environment and, most importantly, their family. Their cattle are inspected by the American Grassfed Association at their ranch, a process that allows their company to label its products as certified grassfed beef. Additionally, they participate in the Louisiana Branded Beef Program, a program of the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association to ensure the beef is Louisiana grown. They are licensed to use the “Certified Louisiana Product” label from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Using these certifications and labels, the Gonsoulin family markets 400-450 head of cattle annually, both retail and wholesale, via the Internet, local papers, farmers markets and word of mouth.

Brookshire Farm, Abbeville
Since 1840, cattle have been raised for seven generations on land in south central Louisiana where Brookshire Farm is located. Brookshire focuses on healthy pastures of native forages they claim give pastured beef its distinctive flavor. When the latest generation took over about 10 years ago, they began selecting cattle and calves with easy-going dispositions they could finish on grass that resulted in tender beef. Pastures are managed to optimize pasture growth and to meet the animals’ nutritional requirements. Brookshire Farm cattle spend their whole lives on forage and receive no growth stimulants, antibiotics or other synthetic additives. These practices reflect their view that grass-fed is a healthier and more sustainable practice for beef. This operation markets 30-40 head of cattle annually as live animals, shares of animals or retail cuts. The company markets through its website, Facebook, email, farmers markets and word of mouth.

Most beef cattle producers using Louisiana MarketMaker indicated their customers sought grass-fed beef or beef that was locally produced. Wholesale and retail markets were used by all producers, but most producers would prefer more retail sales direct to consumers or sales of whole animals direct to consumers at a price intermediate between retail and wholesale. Most producers have noticed an increasing trend for online sales and online media promotion of products like grass-fed beef.

With increased awareness, particularly by the buying public in urban areas, Louisiana MarketMaker will have a larger, positive impact on sales for grassfed beef in Louisiana.

John Westra is a professor, Todd Cooper is an extension associate, and Roger Hinson is a former professor, now retired, in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness.

This article was published in the fall 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.

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