While attending the recent American Angus Association (AAA) annual convention in Louisville, I had the chance to review some current breed stats. I was amazed by what they depict, not only about the breed but the industry.
First off, most of us are familiar with the claim that the professional lifetime of an average purebred breeder is only seven years. And because the seedstock business tends to be 3-5 times as capital-intensive as commercial production, it’s not surprising that seedstock herds on average are smaller than commercial operations.
I found that the membership demographics of AAA are not only similar to those of other breed associations but almost all cattle membership organizations. They all seem to share the dynamic of the vast majority of members being relatively small in size, while the large operations are statistically small, but represent a large percentage of the inventory.
In AAA’s case, 65% of its members registered less than 11 head, but that same 65% only accounted for about 11% of the cattle registered. On the other end of the spectrum, only 4% of the membership registered more than 99 head, but they represent 46% of all the cattle registered in the last fiscal year. The top 9% of the membership registered 63% of the cattle.
I’ve always felt that the policy differences between two groups like AAA and the overall beef industry is overstated. After all, theoretically, what’s good for the Angus breed should be good for large or small producers alike. And what is good for the cattle industry should be good for small and large producers, tool. As JFK once said, “a rising tide raises all boats.” Still, there is inevitably tension between these demographic groups.
Technology is transforming the business. Registrations overall were down for the year as the industry continues to consolidate. However, just over 10% of registrations were the result of embryo transfer, while 52.2% of the calves registered were the result of artificial insemination.
In addition, the amount of data now being incorporated into the national genetic evaluation program is staggering, as it includes records on more than 20 million head of cattle! While ultrasound was revolutionary just a couple decades ago, now it’s DNA, and more than 100,000 DNA samples were processed by AAA last year – double what it was the previous year.
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I remember when AAA rolled out its computer program geared to helping producers collect their data and transmit it electronically. Today, more than half of the membership is using the Angus App on their smartphones. And where new EPDs once were calculated every six months, they’re now run on a weekly basis.
Public relations and communications are vital to any organization, but the primary means of communication used to be a monthly print magazine. AAA now has a TV show, a radio show, is all over social media, and utilizes YouTube and live streaming of cattle events all over the U.S. Today’s world demands to be connected and informed on almost a real-time basis, and the electronic media not only makes this communication more timely, but even more personalized.
But even with all the new technologies, this remains a people business. Family and kids are still the top priorities and the primary focus for so many operations.
Another thought I had is that the segment approach is dead. A lot of organizations used to divide themselves up based on industry segments, or were created to represent just one segment. In one sense, that’s logical as every segment has specific issues and areas of emphasis. In the end, however, every segment is so intertwined and interdependent that these barriers seem out of place. For instance, nothing is further removed from the seedstock producer than the consumer, but nothing is more vital to the success of the seedstock industry than the consumer.
Certified Angus Beef® (CAB) was a revolutionary concept at its inception 25 years ago; now it’s helping to drive bull sales and breeding decisions. CAB sales were up 6.7% this year, another record, at 865 million lbs. No one within CAB likely envisioned ever selling 1 billion lbs. of beef, but that level undoubtedly will soon be reached.
CAB’s overall acceptance rate continues to grow as genetics improve – it was 24.2% this last year. I’m simply amazed at the growth of the various branded products and programs, and their export growth, when compared to the generic domestic beef market. It’s obvious that our future rests in differentiation and meeting specific consumer targets.
The final comparison is the rather mundane but ever important topic of money. The Angus breed is the dominant, most influential breed in our industry. That size provides Angus with tremendous opportunities, as AAA and its subsidiaries had over $45 million in revenue in the past fiscal year.
I’d never underestimate the value of passionate members in helping an organization achieve its goals and get their message out. But whether it’s a breed association, a state or national cattle organization, or even an anti-livestock group, if you want to understand their importance and political clout, look at their revenue figure.
AAA is unique in this regard, as it’s among very few membership organizations that don’t rely on membership dues for revenue. In fact, AAA’s registration, transfer and membership revenues were flat or down compared to a year ago. However, total revenue increased by nearly $6 million, thanks to increases in royalties, investment income and new revenue streams.
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