Does the Yield Grade system need updating?

Does the Yield Grade system need updating?

The same Yield Grade system developed in 1960s is still in use now for beef carcasses.

Despite major advances in beef production and processing technology, yield grading of beef carcasses is determined today using an archaic system developed in the early 1960s, says a leading meats scientist at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, Texas.

Ty Lawrence, WTAMU professor and director of its Beef Carcass Research Center, says the outdated system was based on slaughter statistics of only 162 cattle with a carcass weight ranging from 350 to 900 pounds.

He reviewed the yield grading system during a recent Feeding Quality Forum sponsored partly by Certified Angus Beef. Lawrence says that while genetics, technology, management and consumer expectations have changed, yield grading has not.

For example, the National Research Council (NRC) has revised nutrient requirement standards for fed cattle eight times the past 50 years. “However, yield grading has not changed at all,” he says.

“The single landmark study of beef yield estimation that was reported in 1960 is still used today. The study used data on cattle born in the 1950s. Cattle were much shorter in stature and lighter in weight. The dominant breed of the period was a Hereford. Today, the beef carcass is probably heavier than the live animal back then.”

Camera grading has helped by improving repeatability, but it is still based on the outdated yield grading standards. Lawrence has several suggestions as to how a revamped yield grading system may look:

  • Separate beef type and dairy type cattle, or use of a new system that predicts yield of both.
  • Represent current carcass weights.
  • Represent the entire carcass yield, not just the round, loin, rib and chuck, as has been done since the ‘60s.
  • Estimate kidney-pelvic-heart fat weight consistently or remove it from the yield estimate.
  • Measure grades based on a linear transformation.

“In the current system, when Yield Grade (YG) moves from 3.99 to 4.0, there is about a $15 per cwt discount,” Lawrence says, “but how much did yield really change? The actual change in fabrication yield is approximately 0.2 pounds for a 900-pound carcass, yet the discount is $135.”

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is seeking comments on what’s needed in a revised grading system. Lawrence has been asked to comment and he encourages producers, feeders and others to take advantage of this opportunity to recommend better methods of determining beef quality and yield grading.

Add your comment to the discussion here.

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