Editor's note: The following article was written by Dan Loy, IBC Director and published by the Iowa Beef Center.

Commentary: I'll have the burgerA recent report by Rabobank has caught the attention of the beef industry. The report “Ground Beef Nation: The Effect of Changing Consumer Tastes and Preferences on the U.S. Beef Industry,” documents the growing demand of hamburgers in the American diet.

I think we all have witnessed this. In my generation “comfort food” has shifted from roast beef and mashed potatoes to a burger and fries. In Iowa this is celebrated each year by the Iowa Beef Industry Council through their “Iowa’s Best Burger Contest.”

The Rabobank report notes that while conventional wisdom indicates ground beef comprises 50% of our beef consumption, their data suggests that it may now be as high as 62%. Ground beef comes from trimmings from fed beef processing, non-fed beef (cull cows and bulls) and imported beef. With a herd expansion underway, fewer cull cows are coming to market so ground beef is in short supply.

To meet the need for ground beef, more end meat primals (chucks and rounds) from grain fed cattle may need to become hamburger rather than roasts.

The problem they note is that because our production system is designed for a quality eating experience of the middle meats (steak), the system is not the most efficient for the production of ground beef. The report advocates a system where cattle less likely to produce Prime or Choice steaks are identified early and managed through extended backgrounding and stocker programs specifically for a lower cost, more competitive hamburger market.

While times have changed, a shortage of ground beef is not new. During the last cow herd rebuilding period (around and just prior to 1990), ground beef was in short supply. One of the major fast food companies was concerned enough about this that they funded a two-year study at ISU to evaluate the feeding of young bulls for the fast-food, ground beef market.

The study, headed by Dr. Gene Rouse, looked at feeding young bulls on an accelerated feeding system and marketing them at 13-14 months of age. The idea was that bulls would have a higher percentage of lean round and chuck cuts that could be ground and the steaks would be youthful enough for acceptable tenderness.

Read all of this column on the IBC website. 

Source: Iowa Beef Center