Dale Woerner, PhD, sees his academic career as an opportunity to make a difference and influence the future. A meat scientist, Woerner currently serves on the animal science faculty at Colorado State University (CSU).
Woerner grew up in the small south-central Texas town of Fredericksburg and developed his interest in livestock and meat through showing and judging competitions and food and nutrition projects in 4-H and FFA.
Woerner earned his BS and MS in animal science at Texas Tech University (TTU) in 2003 and 2005, respectively. While at TTU, he was heavily involved in intercollegiate meat judging as a team member and coach at the senior college and junior college levels. While at TTU, he coached a national-champion meat-judging team at Clarendon College and a reserve national-champion senior college meat-judging team. Following the completion of his master’s, he earned his PhD at CSU in 2009, where he coached a national-champion meat-judging team while serving as a graduate teaching and research assistant. He joined the faculty at CSU in 2009, serving within the university’s Center for Meat Quality and Safety. His appointment is 70 percent research, 20 percent teaching and 10 percent outreach.
Woerner also serves as the faculty advisor to the CSU meat-judging program. Woerner’s research focuses on meat quality, innovative fabrication, carcass-yield prediction, carcass optimization and red-meat nutrient composition. A key research challenge, he says, will be to develop systems for producing high-quality, affordable beef while using less corn and other cereal grains in the production process. Grain-fed beef, he says, has provided the U.S. producers with a competitive advantage over other sources, but livestock production now competes with energy and other industries for grain supplies. Researchers and the industry need to develop systems using less grain and other resources while maintaining or improving beef quality and production efficiency.
In his research priorities, Woerner says he tries to balance immediate needs within the industry with more forward-looking projects addressing the future sustainability of beef production. In his “40 under 40” nomination letter, fellow CSU meat scientist Keith Belk, PhD, notes Woerner has acquired over $3 million in grant funds and published 16 articles in peer-reviewed journals, two refereed book chapters and 44 other publications. “In three short years, this research productivity record is substantial and, in my experience, unmatched by most,” Belk says.
Woerner created the first version of NCBA’s online “Beef Cutout Calculator.” This tool provides an in-depth view of carcass composition and value. Packers and retailers use the calculator to assist them in developing cutout strategies that will meet their exact needs, maximize the yield of individual value-added muscle cuts and, thereby, maximize the value of each individual carcass.
He also led a significant portion of the 2011 National Beef Quality Audit, funded by NCBA and the Beef Checkoff, which has had significant policy ramifications within NCBA and the Beef Board. Woerner managed CSU’s contribution to the USDA’s Standard Reference for Beef Nutrients, which food companies access for nutrient labeling information. Belk says this particular effort will impact beef demand and ease of packaging for years to come. Because of the success of Woerner’s contribution to that project, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has asked him to lead the effort to revise USDA-ARS Standard Reference for the Beef Alternative Merchandizing Cuts, and recently was also asked to complete the same task for the veal industry.
Woerner also has been involved in research on instrument-grading for beef carcasses. He helped establish the mechanism by which USDA-ARS now officially approves instruments for use in the application of grade standards and specifications. That mechanism has now resulted in two systems being approved for application of USDA yield and quality grades to beef carcasses, and another system approval pending for application of grade specifications to lamb carcasses. More recently, he collaborated with researchers to refine an evolving tenderness-assessment instrument that is based on high-resolution imaging.
With beef-grading instrumentation widely adopted within the industry, Woerner and co-workers led an effort to validate their effectiveness. These studies have initiated the evolution of a new era of quality assessment and value determination in beef.
Through his research, Woerner hopes to improve global beef demand, production efficiency and sustainability, but he sees teaching as his best opportunity to positively influence the future of food production. He currently teaches undergraduate classes, advises or co-advises 100 graduate students, provides daily oversight of the meats lab and student programs, and oversees the CSU meat-judging team’s catering service, which provides catered meals to events on campus and around the community. The enterprise raises funds to support the team and provides students an opportunity to interact and discuss meat production with the public. It’s not uncommon to see Woerner manning the grill at campus events, skillfully preparing steaks, burgers or chops for hungry participants. The CSU meat science students also conduct a popular weekly meat sale. Customers from around the community can order beef and other meat products online and pick up their orders on campus during sale hours on Fridays. Woerner currently teaches courses on the principles of meat science, meat product evaluation and meat processing.
His wife Wendy serves as the office/finance manager for Producers Feedlot LLC in Greeley, Colo., where she also manages records for source-, age- and process-verification programs. Their 2-year-old son spends many days at the feedyard, gaining an early start in the beef business.