With the world’s best genetic record basis and as a leader in efficiency, the United States has foreign cattle producers hot on its boot heels to improve the global cow herd.

A focus on carcass quality and genetic improvement in the last two decades has moved the top beef-producing country in the world to top contender when it comes to genetic pool selection. Places ranging from Australia, Asia, South America and the Middle East have been the homes of hundreds of cattle producers looking to herds in the United States to find genetics for their herds.

According to Michael Sleeper, Cooperative Resources International associate vice president-international beef marketing for Genex Cooperative Inc., and ABS Global Inc. beef brand manager Vasco Neto, South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have shown particular interest in sourcing genetics from the U.S. cow herd as their industry evolves.

“These countries already have a well-developed beef herd established. However, one of the challenges they face is a lack of data,” says Sleeper, specifically speaking of expected progeny differences, or EPDs. Since the late 1980s, U.S. cattle producers have been able to submit collected data such as birthweights and weaning weights to their respective breed associations for it to be translated into useable and consistent information to more closely examine the animal’s genetic stance so improvements could be made in the selection process.

According to Neto, it was the search for variety in cattle raised in diverse regions under multiple management practices and quality that attracted international cattle producers, who were looking for seedstock genetics, to the United States. However, in the last 10 years, that trend has narrowed, with South American producers focusing their sights on Red and Black Angus cattle.

“Whether it be the Angus Association of America or the Red Angus Association of America, the way data is collected and transformed into meaningful information through the use of EPDs is very meaningful to measure genetic progress,” says Neto, a Brazilian native. “The power of information is the key to why the United States is the No. 1 genetic supplier for international markets.”

Argentina and Uruguay

Carne para el Norte carne para el Sur — Beef to the North and South

When it comes to genetic focus, there is a distinct difference between beef production in Argentina and Uruguay compared to Brazil, Sleeper says. Producers are more interested in sticking to a breed-on-breed concept and maintaining Black Angus, Red Angus and Hereford genetics from the same cow herd.

Dramatic increases in the international price of corn, soybeans and cereal grains in recent years have played a key role in the development of beef herds within Argentina, resulting in beef production splitting to the North and South, while cropland consumes the central part of the country.

Traditionally, cattle found in the South are of the Hereford breed while cattle in the North tend to be Angus. While cattle producers prefer a moderate-sized purebred animal, the climate has forced some producers to utilize crossbreeding for heat-tolerance genetics.

“In South America, North locations mean close proximity to the equator and more tropical climates. Because of this, Zebu genetics such as Brangus and Braford are sought after,” Sleeper says. “It’s crossbreeding, but it’s crossbreeding because of environmental issues.”

Brazil

Cruzamento industrial — The industrial cross

The Nelore cow is hardy and adaptable to thrive in Brazil’s climate. The base population herd of Brazil, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the national cow herd, takes an additional year to reach sexual maturity and finishing weight.

“In the past 10 years, it’s been proven that bringing U.S.-based genetics into Brazil to cross on Nelore cattle has been a tremendous success,” Sleeper says. “They call it ‘the industrial cross.”’

The F1 male and female terminal-cross cattle, which primarily use Angus genetics, are able to hit sexual maturity in two years instead of three, while also hitting finishing weights much sooner — making the cross an efficiency machine for the region.

“The production of the industrial cross for terminal purposes has been extremely successful, resulting in an explosion of growth in the utilization of Angus genetics,” Sleeper explains. “As a matter of fact, this year for the first time, the sale of Angus genetics superseded Nelore genetics. It’s not a nitch market; it’s a long-term breeder sector.”

According to Sleeper, producers wanting to capture and maintain heterosis without too much Angus influence are opting to utilize U.S. black Simmental genetics for the third cross.

“The more progressive breeders have begun to capture the benefits of the crossbred genetics in their cow herd,” he says. “While it’s still early, there’s an increasing pattern of retaining and incorporating some of the F1 females back into their cow herd.”

Continual improvement

According to both Neto and Sleeper, there has been a push in the South American beef industry to develop a concise platform for EPD data collection and use. Even once that is accomplished, both believe the two regions will continue a close working relationship with beef genetics.

“The United States is the best source of genetics for any breed — beef and dairy. When beef genetics are brought up in foreign markets, the first country that comes to mind is the United States,” Neto explains. “Because it is genetic progress, other countries will always be looking to the United States since it has been making progress for the longest.”

Another big change in the foreseeable future is a higher emphasis placed on carcass quality. Until now, there has been little financial reward for carcass quality in South America, and producers simply raise pounds of beef. Sleeper predicts Brazil will be the leader in this movement, particularly since JBS, the world’s biggest meat processor, is a Brazilian-owned company. However, he also predicts the other countries will follow suit with their own motivation.

“Major beef-producing countries just like the United States see and understand that there is a tremendous opportunity to export, and one has to have the ability to export added-value products, not just pounds of commercial commodity products,” he explains. “So that added-value market will drive people to look at product quality.”

The future

At the end of the day, no matter what country or region in which they are located, beef producers have the responsibility of raising a safe and efficient product that meets consumers’ expectations. With the global population booming, sustainable agriculture practices are more crucial than ever to meet the increasing food demands, and genetic improvement in the global beef herd, led by the United States, will play a key role in meeting protein demands (read about the 40 Under 40 program, starting on page 25).

“I think people in agriculture, whether it be grains, fruits and vegetable or in dairy and beef, have a promising future in agriculture,” Sleeper concludes. “Regardless of what country one lives in, a strong continued focus on selecting the best genetics that fit the needs and objectives of the individual producer in each region of the country is going to be so critical and rewarding as we need to meet global food requirements for the years ahead.”