The King Ranch® Institute for Ranch Management (KRIRM) hosted the 11th Annual Holt Cat® Symposium on Excellence in Ranch Management, bringing together the top industry experts on sustainability to offer a more clear picture on sustainable beef production and discuss what this issue means to the beef industry’s future.

In recent times, sustainability has become of greater importance in the eyes of the consumer, but is all too often misunderstood among the beef industry. Perspectives on sustainability from all sectors of the supply chain are vital in the overall understanding of the issue. KRIRM hosted beef industry experts, as well as beef retailers, during the two-day symposium that successfully defined sustainability and how the beef industry should respond to the demands of beef retailers and consumers.

Addressing Sustainability Within the Beef Industry

Kim Stackhouse, director of sustainability research for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA), explained that in a recent study conducted by NCBA, new factors, such as trusted and environmentally friendly brands, and brands that supported causes important to the consumer, contribute to the consumers’ decision of purchasing beef. A survey conducted by McDonald’s showed that the consumer’s main concern is the impact of the supply chain; consumers want to know where their food comes from, explained Bob Langert, vice president of corporate social responsibility for McDonald’s corporation.

The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), a multi-national organization of stakeholders including everyone from producers to consumers, has accepted and released their definition of sustainable beef production. GRSB President Cameron Bruett explained that sustainable beef is a socially responsible, environmentally sound, and economically viable product that prioritizes planet, people, animals, and progress. As the middle class grows and demand for production rises, so does the care and concern that it is done right. Bruett said the right way means everything, which also includes human emotion.

Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, vice president of Cargill Value Added Meats Foodservice, spoke to symposium attendees on what consumers consider quality beef. Today, quality beef has a different meaning to the consumer than it did several decades ago. Now consumers want beef that is raised humanely and environmentally responsible. Hoffman encouraged two-way communication with consumers; instead of the one-way, “tell our story” strategy that presents facts to the consumer, the industry must show the consumer that their concerns are heard and validated.

Agri Beef Company stressed to the attendees to know their customer. Wade Small, president of livestock division for Agri Beef, said questions and concerns from consumers or between segments of the supply chain can be answered before growing into something unmanageable. Bruett touched on the same topic as he explained that large packers hear the concerns of the consumers from beef retailers, and are the messenger to the rest of the industry.

An Outside Perspective

Representatives from industries apart from the U.S. beef industry spoke about their success stories involving sustainability. The Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) was formed in the 1990’s when the spotted owl’s endangered state brought controversy to the forefront of the forestry industry. What was once a public relations program, SFI evolved into a market based performance program and is now an independent business since 2007. Rick Cantrell, Ph.D., president and CEO of BlackBriar Environmental LLC., urged the beef industry to publish once there are results. He said, “People want to hear what you have done, not what you are going to do.”

Aliança de Terra in Brazil is a third party verification company that is a valuable and transparent resource for companies seeking to evaluate responsible production practices in their supply chain. John Carter, director of the program, said Aliança auditors encourage the producer in the things they are doing right and to work together on an action plan for improvements. This action plan, along with photos and videos of the business, is uploaded to a website making everything transparent and adding accountability. A seal identifies the products verified by Aliança, and by eating Aliança beef, the consumer is helping the environment, explained Carter.

As symposium wrapped up with other speakers including Ben Weinheimer of Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Leigh Ann Johnston of Tyson Foods, Inc., and Wayne Fahsholtz retired CEO of Padlock Ranch, the overwhelming take-home message was condensed into a few beef industry action items. As discussed earlier, two-way communication and knowing your consumer is key. Also, Cantrell stressed that research is important for leadership teams and industry stakeholders to implement a plan for sustainability. Tools must be in place so the American beef industry can see where risks are coming from and how the operation, producer, and ultimately the industry can continually improve, said Carter. Lastly, Stackhouse explained that 20 percent of the beef produced in the U.S. is wasted post harvest. With solutions to reduce waste by half, sustainability could be improved by 10 percent overnight, she said.

As producers examine their operations, part of the solution is doing everything a little better, always looking for ways to improve production and reduce waste. Sustainability is here to stay, and will become a part of standard beef production, for where there is shared value, there is good business.

About KRIRM

KRIRM is a ranch management master’s program at TAMUK that was formed in 2003 in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the legendary King Ranch. As the only ranch management master’s program in the world, KRIRM teaches graduate students using a multi-disciplinary, systems approach to ranch management, and provides the highest quality lectureships and symposia to stakeholders in the ranching industry. The programs serve the ranching industry by empowering graduate students and outreach attendees with skills that will enable them to strategically manage complex ranching operations and successfully lead our industry. For more information about KRIRM, and the master’s and certificate programs, visit krirm.tamuk.edu.