Beef quality grades and consumer interest do impact the cow-calf producer according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
That point was evident recently when Cole staffed a display at the business expo in Mt. Vernon. He polled visitors about their perceptions and preferences in beef purchases. At that same time, he was able to educate people about beef quality grades.
"My props were not actual cuts of beef, instead I used the USDA steak pictures with various degrees of marbling ranging from Slight through Moderately Abundant. The corresponding beef grades range from Select through Prime," said Cole.
Visitors looked at the pictures and made their picks. Not surprisingly, those choices varied a lot depending on the gender, age and economic means of the person making the selections.
Younger women mostly picked the Select grade (Slight Marbling). Men, regardless of age, sought more marbling, pointing to the Choice and some the Prime steak pictures. The Choice grades include marbling scores of Small, Modest and Moderate. Prime beef requires Abundant degrees of marbling. Others said the choice depended solely on the cost.
"I pointed out the differences in the grades which were marbling or intramuscular fat differences. Most admitted they wanted beef that was tender and wondered why a greater effort wasn't being made to insure tenderness," said Cole. "I told them efforts were being made on that front, but tenderness still depends a lot on factors beyond the visual quality grade assigned by the USDA grader and the camera image system used at a number of plants."
Cole says he also reminded visitors that the final stop for a steak, the grill, is a vital step in the tender and taste process. Many Choice and Select steaks have been left dry and unpalatable by being cooked to well-done.
PRODUCERS KNOWING GRADE
Cow-calf producers should be aware of the final quality grade of the feeder calf they send to the feedlot. Unfortunately, the pipeline of information from the USDA grade at the packing house to the typical southwest Missouri cow-calf operator is not very direct.
"The only way herd owners are likely to find accurate information on their calves' carcass quality grades it to retain ownership through the feedlot phase," said Cole.
The Missouri Steer Feedout offers a low-risk opportunity to find quality grades. Over the last six years the feedout data shows 1,372 head of our cattle in the feedout graded 57.6 percent low Choice or better. An industry target is to achieve 70% Choice.
There is a price difference between Choice and Select of $7 to $8 per hundred pounds of carcass weight, currently. Before the first of the year, the differences was around $18 per hundred.
"Producers need to keep an eye on the market they plan to target as breeding decisions are being made.
Consider your likely consumer, whether it's a conservative southwest Missourian or an affluent person on the coasts and your opportunity for premiums or discounts," said Cole.