This fall’s discussion about breeding systems has very old roots, but a recent shoot comes from Nevil Speer’s November 2011 white paper, “Crossbreeding: Considerations and Alternatives in an Evolving Market.” Far from promoting an agenda, Speer simply pointed to economic facts that explain why a great number of successful ranchers do not take advantage of the proven benefits of crossbreeding.
The culture of crossbreeding in beef cattle science has become so entrenched among many within the industry that any suggestion of alternative logic is met with harsh criticism. The November guest editorial in reminded us of “indisputable” science and warned us not to be “foolish” as it proceeded with the assumption that the American Angus Association has dismissed those crossbreeding advantages. In fact, we have no doubt that the science of heterosis meshes with business for many successful cattlemen.
Many cattlemen have other ideas, however, and today, by maintaining an exclusive focus on Angus genetics, they are enjoying at least equal success with those who crossbreed.
Perhaps more importantly, the white paper and recent national advertisements demonstrate that commercial producers are increasingly investing in longer-term goals; they want to avoid the whims of a commodity market. And within that context, they’re making serious, long-term decisions about their seedstock. Many of them are choosing to straightbreed, offsetting efficiencies gained by heterosis with market premiums for uniformity, color, breed type and carcass quality.
Long term, the economy does not suffer fools. Those who find ways to include most aspects of crossbreeding on the ranch while improving beef quality are to be commended. Those who acknowledge and weigh all the science and yet prefer the straightbred Angus route to profitable business have earned the beef industry’s respect. After all, their success is often called impossible.
This is not a breed battle by any means. Our common ground is the effort to win more consumers over to increasingly expensive beef through whatever means possible to deliver the best product profitably. That “virtuous loop” is the only model producers can use to keep bringing new money into the production chain instead of just trading dollars among segments.
In other words, it’s no longer about just raising cows; it’s about having a plan for growing this business.
During the last 20 years, thousands of cow- calf operations have exited our industry. Our market share continues to give ground to pork and poultry. Consumer demand for commodity beef has remained relatively flat.