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Industry At A Glance: The Trends In Beef Quality Grade

steer heifer harvest mix for choice  prime
Since 2000, there’s been a 10% increase in the percentage of USDA Choice and Prime beef product in the sales cooler.

Last week’s “Industry At A Glance” discussion focused on the dramatic growth of certified programs in the past decade. That growth likely has influenced the beef industry’s ability to produce more highly marbled product over time.

Despite lots of rhetoric about value-based marketing as a means to induce quality and consistency, market structure still hadn’t sufficiently evolved to facilitate that occurrence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even with the advent of grid-pricing, weight remained the primary market signal and overwhelming driver of revenue. However, in recent years, beef producers have been increasingly incentivized to utilize genetics, establish breeding systems, and implement management strategies to ensure cattle hit higher USDA Quality Grade (QG) targets.

That reality is best reflected by QG results cited by the National Beef Quality Audits: percent Prime and Choice had bottomed out around 50% of the harvest mix between 1995 and 2000. Since that time, there’s been a 10% increase in the percentage of Choice and Prime product in the sales cooler. That’s an important development, especially when considering the significance of QG to overall eating quality (more on that next week).

cattle that graded prime or choice

What influence has this growing trend in QG had on the beef industry? Where do see the industry’s QG trend headed in the future? Have we hit a plateau with the current cattle mix, or can this number go higher yet? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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