By Duane Dailey
Beef cows are a billion-dollar business in Missouri. That dollar cash flow in the state’s economy will get better.
In 20 years in the MU Show-Me-Select Heifer program, herd owners learned that beef quality pays.
Premiums for better beef were always there. But in recent months, they started getting better with program enhancements.
With 1.9 million cows in the state, every time we add a dollar per calf, it ripples through the state.
Missouri has lots of prime grass. Cows convert grass into money. It’s basic economic development.
At a recent beef meeting, Dave Patterson, University of Missouri Extension beef specialist, explained premiums. He took prices from SMS heifer sales from 2010 to 2016. The baseline average for bull-bred heifers was $2,018 — not a bad price. However, with advanced genetics of Tier 2 artificially inseminated heifers, the average went up to $2,262. The quality premium: $244 per head. That’s on top of good prices.
The potential of genetic technology leaps forward. At the spring sale at Joplin in May, the top-price heifers brought $3,200. There’s a story behind those. They carried a new class name, “Show-Me-Plus.” They had a genomic test panel that gives breeders DNA data to use in better breeding.
DNA comes from a small blood sample or the roots of tail hairs. Genetically enhanced expected progeny differences (EPDs) are stronger than production testing — and they’re a lot quicker. Rapid quality upgrades become possible in a herd.
Buyers of these replacements get more than one more calf. The farm herd future grows.
Adding more to the story is that those Joplin bidders were from out of state. Increasingly, Missouri gains fame as THE source of quality replacement heifers. No other state has such an Extension program.
The SMS program limits itself to Missouri producers. Any herd owner can sign up with a regional MU Extension livestock specialist. Out-of-state farmers can’t join. Buyers can come from everywhere. So far, SMS heifers have gone to 19 states.
Long ago, buyers from every county in Missouri had come to the sales. The quality became known statewide.
SMS more than marketing
While spring and fall sales make the news, the marketing stays a small part of the SMS program. Big payoffs, hard to tally; pile up in home-farm herds. In his talk, Patterson calculates that at $120 million.
Financial gains go beyond those enrolled in the program. Many Missouri veterinarians insist their beef-herd clients follow SMS protocols.
Early fame for the program came from calving-ease EPDs and pre-breeding exams. Calving assistance used to run 34%. Death loss ran 10%.Those dropped dramatically — a huge economic gain.
For vets, it means fewer dark-of-night calls for calving help and midnight cesareans. Those rarely turn out well.
While calving ease gains fame, other traits are tracked. Sires used in the Tier 2 program must also meet proven EPDs for weaning weight, carcass weight and marbling.
Marbling creates Prime
Flecks of fat, known in the industry as marbling, bring higher USDA quality grades. Recent price spreads between Select and Choice beef set new records. Prime grade brings even more. Prime and boxed beef premium prices have topped $2 per pound on carcasses.
To gain advantage of premiums, it takes changes in marketing. The genetic value of superior calves keeps gaining as they age. The best collection point is selling on a grid at the packing plant.
All is possible, but we all think of reasons it won’t work.
In his talk, Patterson lists some obstacles: slow to adopt new technology; aging herd owners; rising input costs, growing global competition and perceived lack of incentives.
Those change when we look at facts.
There’s lots of beef in the world. Not much quality. Export buyers prefer what we have: corn-fed Prime beef. Already, buyers in the Far East take a large proportion of our Prime cuts.
Old-timers adopt change, too
Some of the most ardent fans of SMS replacement heifers qualify as old-timers. The program isn’t just for young ones.
When China opens its trade gates, beef-hungry buyers await. As Scott Brown, MU Extension beef economist, says, think what another billion hamburgers a day does to demand.
But real demand comes for more than hamburger beef. Everyone grows that. Missouri makes SMS premium beef.
Dailey is a retired MU Extension professor. He writes from his home in Columbia.