turns to beef
to replace tobacco as king
education, money to cattle producers
(March 2009) If youre eating steak tonight,
theres a good chance it was raised in Kentucky.
Indiana & Kentucky
Once known primarily for thoroughbred horses, burley tobacco
and bourbon, the Bluegrass State in recent years has earned a new reputation
as a top beef cattle producer. With 44,000 beef cattle producers and
more than 1.1 million head, it already ranks as the top cattle-producing
state east of the Mississippi River.
How did Kentucky move from tobacco to T-bones in just a few short years?
It did so with farmer education classes administered by University of
Kentucky College of Agriculture professors through its Cooperative Extension
Services, a unique marketing program to promote beef to consumers, and
the combined support of various agricultural-related organizations and
businesses. Ironically, much of this was funded by tobacco settlement
money through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund. This fund
was created by the Kentucky General Assembly in the 2000 session to
invest half of Kentuckys share of master tobacco settlement funds
in agricultural development projects. The state invested $279 million
by the end of 2008, much of it in beef cattle production.
In addition to money, chief among these effort is the Kentucky Cattlemens
Association, a 9,237-member organization based in Lexington with chapters
representing the states entire 120 counties. KCA sponsors a number
of initiatives, including the Master Cattlemen Advanced
Master Cattlemen, Master Grazer and Cow College educational
series that are taught by UK professors at extension service offices
around the state. Since the Master Cattlemen courses began in 2000 with
a pilot program in only three counties, more than 2,776 people
cattle producers and non-producers alike have completed
eight of the 10 monthly classes to earn their certificate as Master
Cattlemen and completed additional Beef Quality Assurance certification.
The latter certification is a written questionnaire that registers a
producer as having undergone training in proper management techniques
and production standards.
are a central part
of the states overall Strategic Plan for
By the end of this year, there will have been 3,073 participants
in the Master Cattlemen program statewide, some of whom may have not
attended the minimum of eight classes required to earn their certificate,
according to Lori Porter, UKs Animal Sciences Extension Associate.
The Master Cattleman program gave me the knowledge to feel comfortable
running my own hobby beef farm, said Oldham County resident and
beef cattle producer Jon Bednarski.
Not only were the instructors informative, but networking with
the other farmers in the class was invaluable. I still find myself using
the written information that was provided to answer my farming questions.
The best part was that the Master Cattlemans program gave me the
knowledge and motivated me to start my own retail beef business selling
direct to consumers.
Bednarski sells all-natural beef by the piece through his La Grange-based
Sherwood Acres Beef farm, with much of it sold at the Louisville Farmers
The tobacco settlement money provided through the states Agriculture
Development Board is managed and distributed by the 12-member University
of Kentucky Beef Integrated Resource Management Coordinating Committee.
Created in 1995, the IRM, now headed by state coordinator Jay Busby,
is the model by which Kentucky agriculture officials have implemented
the states Master Plan for Kentucky Agricultural Economic Development,
with regard to beef production. The IRM coordinating committee has developed
and funded the various educational programs statewide to help meet the
maximum potential of the states beef cattle operations. The challenge
is ominous, considering that more than 38,000, or 86 percent, of Kentuckys
cattle producers have herds of less than 50 head each.
by (Local) County
of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. beef cattle and calves
$2.49 million; 2. tobacco $2.38 million; 3. grains $1.14 million.
Beef cattle head: 8,462 (79th in state)
Kentucky Cattlemens Association
Beef cattle producers: 267
CPH-45 participants: 15
Acres of farmland: 65,098
Ave. farm size: 133 acres
Value of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. horses $8.26
million; 2. nurseries and greenhouses $3,67 million; 3. grains
Beef cattle head: 8,319 (81st in state)
Kentucky Cattlemens Association members: 44
Beef cattle producers: N/A
CPH-45 participants: 5
Acres of farmland: 60,024
Ave. farm size: 130 acres
Value of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. beef cattle
and calves $8.8 million; 2. tobacco $8.44 million; 3. milk cows
Beef cattle head: 27,594 (32nd in state)
Kentucky Cattlemens Association members: 164
Beef cattle producers: N/A
CPH-45 participants: 15
Acres of farmland: 146,399
Ave. farm size: 152 acres
Value of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. beef cattle
and calves $2.38 million; 2. grains $325,000; 3. other crops and
Beef cattle head: 8,749 (77th in state)
Kentucky Cattlemens Association members: 55
Beef cattle producers: 300
CPH-45 participants: 5
Acres of farmland: 63,708
Ave. farm size: 195 acres
Value of sale by commodity group (top 5): 1. poultry and
eggs $978 million; 2. horses $952 million; 3. beef cattle and
calves $935 million; 4. grains $867 million; 5. milk cows $250
(Note: 2007 was the first year on record that tobacco was not
in the list of top 5 agricultural commodities in Kentucky.)
Beef cattle head: 2.395 million
Kentucky Cattlemens Association members: 9,23
Total acres in state: 25,388,000 acres
Acres of farmland: 13.993 million (54 percent)
Ave. size farm: 164 acres
Market value of production-ave. per farm: $56,586
Ave. govt. payments per farm: $3,494
County Extension Agents and 2007 Ky Dept. of Agriculture Census
The IRM coordinating committee also has held extension
agent training statewide to help educate those agents who may not have
had livestock backgrounds but who are now in a position to promote better
farm techniques and economics to their local cattle producers.
Everything sort of came together at the same time, said
Dave Maples, an Alabama native who has served as the KCAs executive
director for the past decade. And I am constantly amazed at how
many people are registering for our annual convention, which I think
is a sign of the growth in the industry.
More than 1,300 people registered for at least one event at the January
convention in Lexington. Maples said it is fast becoming one of the
largest events for Kentucky beef producers.
In addition to supporting farmer education programs, the KCA provides
money through it foundation for student scholarships and lobbies Kentucky
lawmakers on issues that will benefit beef producers. When I came
here, it was always tobacco and horses; today, a lot of folks still
dont realize just how big beef cattle is in this state.
Phase I tobacco money also has provided thousands of 50-50 cost share
dollars to farmers throughout the state to upgrade their cattle handling
facilities, establish hay storage, purchase high quality bulls and improve
water and fencing for their herds. In Trimble County alone, since 2001,
$1.652 million has been provided to farmers, who must match the amount
of money they receive, essentially doubling the countys investment
in farming operations.
In 2007, $206,746 was doled out to Trimble County farmers to upgrade
their operations, according to Trimble County Ag Extension Agent Michael
These programs are having significant impact not only in Trimble
County, but all over the state, Pyles said.
In addition, this statewide coalition of UK educators and ag industry
businesses has earned its top beef producer status by marketing its
premium beef calves through the Certified Precond-itions for Health,
or CPH-45 sales. These specialized beef cattle sales are held at certain
times of the year throughout the state with certain restrictions in
place to ensure feed lot buyers that they are getting a top quality
and consistent product. Cattle must be weaned 45 days, meet a minimum
weight, and have had all their required shots and booster shots to become
eligible for the sale. The sales are sanctioned by the KCA, the Kentucky
Department of Agriculture and UK Department of Agriculture. About 50,000
head of premium calves are marketed annually through the sales, and
they even attract producers from several neighboring states.
Registering cattle for the CPH-45 sales requires
a little more cattle management and financial resources, but it has
proven to pay off in the long run, said Pyles. Our goal
is to get more producers to utilize this marketing system because it
helps promote consistency in Kentucky beef cattle production.
Busby, whose job includes promoting the CPH-45 program, says the state
is currently marketing about 33,000 head a year through the premium
sale. But we need to get that up to 50,000 to 65,000 range to
make our beef cattle a predictable product we can bank on. Its
up to producers to get involved, he said. Were just
here to support it.
Busby said the Master Cattlemen program is the flagship of all components.
Its a comprehensive plan to get producers into CPH-45 and show
them why CPH makes sense for them.
boom in Kentucky beef
In recent years, Kentucky has emerged as the largest beef cattle
producer east of the Mississippi River. Industry experts credit
education, promotion and incentives to farmers, all of which has
been organized through the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
and it extension services. Other organizations supporting the effort
include the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association and agri-businesses.
Today, Kentucky has more than 1.1 million head of beef cows and
more than 40,000 producers and ranks fifth nationally in number
of farms. The Kentucky Cattlemen's Association has grown to 93 chapters
in all 120 counties.
These premium sales allow small cow-calf farmers to sell
their small numbers of beef cattle in larger lot sizes of like-size
and type by grouping them with other herds, thus enabling them to earn
top dollars in the market from large companies who then finish the animals
to slaughter weight in feed lots out west.
The CPH 45 marketing program helps establish consistency in the
quality of our beef so it can be sold for top prices on the market,
said Dr. Roy Burris, 61, a Tennessee native who has served as UKs
Extension Beef Specialist since 1981 at the universitys research
farm in Princeton, Ky.
But Burris acknowledged that the 4,000 or so graduates of Master Cattlemen
represents only 10 percent of the states total beef producers.
Were on track, but we need to do more to make people aware
Burris said the 10 four-hour classes include session on being good stewards
of the environment. Its important that the public knows
we are producing healthy, wholesome beef in an environmentally friendly
way and in humane conditions; that we care about the environment in
our effort to convert grass into beef.
The CPH-45 program has been in use for nearly 30 years but only recently
saw significant growth, according to Kenny Burdine, a UK Extension Beef
Marketing Associate. Loss of tobacco and increased dependence
on cattle led to an explosion of interest in CPH-45 in the late 1990s,
said Burdine, who teaches one of the Master Cattlemen marketing classes.
Kentucky is predominately a cow-calf state, with few cattle actually
finished to slaughter weight. That is done by bigger companies
using large feed lots in Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and other western
states. Kentucky cattle are transported out west to be finished, then
sold to packaging houses who in turn supply grocers with the beef to
sell to consumers.
cattle in recent years have replaced
tobacco as one of Kentucky's top
five agricultural industries.
Milton, Ky., beef producer Barry Joyce is an avid supporter
of CPH-45 and sells about 50 head of Angus calves through the program
in Lexington. He has nearly 60 head of cows on his 300-acre farm and
estimates he pockets $100 profit per head on average.
I wouldnt sell my calves any other way, said Joyce,
61, who serves as the secretary-treasurer of the 90-member Trimble County
Cattlemens Association. I have consistently sold close to
top market price or above.
Joyce cites the benefits of the CPH-45 sale as producing a conditioned,
weaned, healthy calf that is ready for market; receiving a better market
price per pound; adding weight gain to the calf by feeding at least
45 days before the sale. He admits, however, that it requires more labor
and better cattle handling facilities to accommodate the sale restrictions.
To help fund marketing of beef to the consumer, Kentucky in recent years
has used the Beef Checkoff Program. This program charges producers $1
for each head of cattle sold (in both CPH-45 and non-CPH-45 sales) and
uses the money for its marketing costs. Fifty cents of that $1 goes
to the Cattlemens Beef Board, which oversees the Checkoff programs;
the other half stays in Kentucky to fund state coordinated activities,
such as education, promotion, research and consumer information.
In addition, the Kentucky Beef Council, which operates under the auspices
of the Kentucky Cattlemens Association, has worked with Kroger
and other retailers to market new cuts of beef to be more consumer friendly.
For example, the thin flat-iron steaks have become popular with consumers
who want quick, easy, microwavable cuts of beef. Flat-iron steak comes
from the less popular chuck roast. Other beef promotions include nutrition
education for health professionals and education kits for students and
foodservice companies to help increase beef demand. The council also
partners with food retailers to make shopping for beef easier. The latter
effort in recent years has been successful in promoting the advertising
slogan: Beef: Its Whats for Dinner.
The Kentucky Beef Council is one of 46 state beef councils nationwide
working in the producer-led promotion of beef.
At recent Kentucky Cattlemens Association Conventions, held annually
in January in Lexington, chefs demonstrated various new cuts of beef
that are being developed for the consumer market. These efforts are
designed to make beef more desirable in the grocery store and put more
profits in the pockets of producers.
Finally, efforts in Kentucky to establish high quality and consistency
in beef production has helped restore confidence in beef among the foreign
markets. One aspect of these efforts is a program to establish source
and age verification of cattle through farm identification numbers assigned
to each producer. The farm I.D. program is administered by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture through its Process Verified Program, or PVP.
The goal is to provide customers with assurance of the ability to provide
consistent, quality products. If a problem ever occurs with an animal,
it can be traced back to the farm from where it came. These premise
identification numbers are required for selling cattle through Kentuckys
Beef Specialist Roy Burris
addresses a group of Master Cattlemen participants at a hands-on
As a result of such efforts, Japan, the largest importer
of American beef, has nearly returned to the once high levels of imports
since the first reported case in 1986 of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy,
or BSE, a degenerative neurological disease of cattle, that was first
discovered in the United Kingdom.
The recent downturn in the nations economy and the 2006 drought
has taken a hit on Kentuckys beef cattle producers, according
to Busby. The states total herd has declined due to rising costs
of feed, fuel and hay. But he believes the future still holds much opportunity
for expanding the market and profitability for producers. One opportunity
lies in the consumers desire for all-natural beef by the piece.
Another is finding way to market beef directly to consumers through
local farmers markets and grocery stores.
I am personally interested in the all-natural beef phenomenon
and am looking for ways to develop programs that may help our producers
go in different directions, he said. We must constantly
watch the markets and cater to what our consumers want in order to be
successful and profitable.
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