I love the good old days as much as anyone. In fact, I think life has never been so good, and I was never so knowledgeable, as when I was a senior in high school. I was the master of my universe.
This week, I took part in a conversation where it was argued that we would all be a lot better off without all this technology that pervades our life, and beef production, today. If we hadn’t improved genetics, the argument goes, we would need a lot more cattle today. And the same could be said for implants, or a host of other technologies.
There is truth to that. Occasionally, the consumer may reject certain technologies or even pay enough of a premium for producers to justify not using it. However, the free-market system is amazingly efficient; the reason we produce corn-fed beef is that the most prosperous consumers in the world prefer it to grass-fed beef.
The U.S. is the world’s low-cost producer of high-quality, corn-fed beef. We wouldn’t be competitive if grass-fed beef was to become the dominant category.
Let’s look at growth implants. Most cattle in the U.S. are implanted because cattlemen earn a return of around 15-20 to 1 on their investment. Others elect to not implant cattle because they receive enough of a premium not to use the technology. In the end, however, all these discussions are kind of moot. Nobody can afford not to utilize proven technologies; they make you competitive.
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The marketplace/consumer is the final arbiter, and to ignore them is to do so at your own peril. The difficult thing with the whole technology discussion is that we tend to forget the laws of marketing. Dominant technologies always create niches. Some purebred breeders are quite successful selling cattle that are below average for the economically relevant traits of beef production; they take advantage of a niche created by the dominant technology. However, the majority of seedstock producers will utilize genetic improvement tools.
The same can be said with every technology. The success of a niche market is dependent upon the success of the dominant market. It can’t be applied universally. Most importantly, the discussions are almost always moot, because once a technology is developed and accepted by a majority of consumers, unless producers target a small niche market, they’re almost forced to adopt them.
Once out of the tube, you can’t put the toothpaste back in. I may actually believe the world was a better place without cell phones, but I also can’t imagine living without one, at least until something better comes along to replace them.
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