Nearly a decade ago the beef industry seemed in peril. Consumer demand and market share were in the midst of a twenty-year decline, and many observers believed beef was headed the way of America's sheep industry-toward oblivion.

Fortunately, your beef industry was stocked with a core of hardy men and women unwilling to ask for quarter from the pork and poultry industries. The 1991 National Beef Quality Audit outlined beef's many shortcomings. In general, beef was viewed by packers, retailers and consumers as too big, too fat and too inconsistent. Most notably, the audit suggested that excessive fat production accounted for an average loss of $280 per head. The audit also provided details about beef's lack of quality. Injection-site lesions, bruises and hide damage were common defects. In short, if beef were an employee the industry would have been summarily dismissed. In fact, that's what consumers were in the process of doing.

Given the severity of beef's wounds, one could understand how producers might resign themselves to a fate similar to that of the sheep industry. And given the fact that beef consumption had dropped from over 93 pounds per capita to 62 pounds per capita in just two decades, it seemed likely that beef would remain nothing more than the staple of America's fast food industry.

Despite the bleak outlook, a campaign was initiated to reduce or eliminate beef's defects. Since then, Quality Assurance programs have been at work in over 40 states. And other producer education campaigns have helped to greatly improve beef's overall quality.

Drovers' coverage of the quality movement began nearly a decade ago, labeling it Beef's Quality Revolution. At the time the industry struggled just to recognize its' many problems. Today, through producer innovation and rapidly advancing technology, solutions have been found that have helped turn back the challenge of the pork and poultry industries. Last year, for the first time in twenty years, beef demand showed an increase.

Today, most producers understand the importance of producing quality beef. Many view themselves, not as cattlemen, but as beef producers. They know the genetics they select and the management techniques they employ have a tremendous impact when their product reaches someone's dinner plate. Marketing and production alliances are helping those producers realize an economic incentive for cattle of higher quality. And technology has helped cattle feeders manage those cattle better to reach the proper harvest point at the proper time.

Further encouragement comes from the tremendous success of branded beef products. Today's consumer can find excellent beef meals offered in a heat-and-eat package in most of the major supermarkets. And branded, fresh products such as steaks and roasts are available in many markets. Further enhancing beef's image along this comeback trail is the growing popularity of steak houses. Today, not only can you find a "good" steak in most cities, you'll probably find a waiting line at the door.

It has been exciting to see beef's dramatic turnaround the past decade. But Beef's Quality Revolution is far from over. Too many cattle still produce too many defects. Too many producers still pay too little attention to genetics, management and health programs. And too many producers still refuse to participate in organized programs that can help them identify quality and realize true value for their cattle.

Beef's Quality Revolution is well underway. Too many producers, packers and retailers are realizing the economic benefits of quality for the movement to turn back. If you hope to prosper in the coming years as beef charges back to the head of the meat case, you must work to join those who produce quality beef meals for modern consumers.