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2003 Alliance Yellow Pages: Taking Control

Is the evolution toward "coordinated" or "program" beef production changing the look of the beef business? Will alliances help improve overall profitality and stability? We asked some experts.

The history of the modern American cattle industry has been one of good times and tough times. It's well accepted that a succession of 10-year cycles based on cow-calf producers' response to periodic profitability — coupled with the timetable of bovine reproduction — has driven the industry since the early 1900s.

That element of the cattle business seems to be changing though.

The inventory peak during the 1979-1990 cattle cycle was the first time the cycle failed to establish record high cattle numbers. In addition, the 1990 cattle inventory estimate marked the first time an inventory trough fell below the previous cycle's trough. We saw this trend surface again over the past few years as cyclical numbers are generated.

So, what's happening? Could it be that the industry's shift from producing beef as a commodity to beef “products” is taking some of the volatility out of producer prices and handing the industry a more settled future?

“The cycles will be less volatile from a numbers standpoint and the resulting changes in beef production will be less prominent than in previous cycles,” says Randy Blach, Denver, CO. The executive vice president of Cattle-Fax adds that “Stability in numbers are partially due to marketing programs, increased partnerships and alliances within the industry.”

He notes that the contraction in numbers also has a lot to do with the physical size of today's slaughter cattle — a result of increased productivity in the areas of genetics, reproduction, health and nutrition.

Blach warns though, that price changes could continue to be volatile because of the global nature of beef markets. And, while “coordinated marketing” is here to stay, the ultimate driving force in stabilizing the beef industry is consumer demand.

“The development of coordinated beef marketing systems is a slow and tedious process,” he says. “But, they do end up pulling product through the system as opposed to pushing it through marketing channels.”

As long as America can sustain domestic and international demand growth, cattle cycles and the resulting price cycles will “flatten out.” That will give cow-calf producers the opportunity to stay profitable, he explains.

Changing Price Structures

Blach says today only about 12-15% of the beef marketed in the U.S. flows through “true” alliances. But, when coordinated marketing is defined in a broader context — placing grids, formulas and value-based marketing agreements into the picture — that level expands dramatically.

He says it's hard though to put a finger on the share of total cattle tied to coordinated marketing programs.

“Put it this way,” Blach explains, “more than 50% of the cattle sold today do not trade on the cash market.”

This erosion of the traditional cash pricing structure is one of the downsides many producers see in the proliferation of coordinated marketing programs.

“With a diminishing cash market, how do we set a value on our cattle?” asks Ben Eggers, Mexico, MO, manager of Sydenstricker Angus Farms. “Owning cattle all the way to the kill floor is still a big step for a lot of ranchers unless they see a value put in front of them.”

Eggers says he can see where it makes sense for some cattlemen to become part of an alliance — and the industry has progressed significantly in terms of its awareness about how markets work.

He also says that with improved production information flow back to commercial breeders — and to their seed stock suppliers — coordinated marketing systems can help cow-calf producers make progress in several “directions” at once. And, while sometimes the layers of information can be overwhelming, Eggers says producers today are better equipped to manage that information for optimum genetics as well as optimum economics.

“We're getting past the days when cattle trading simply came down to how cheap you could buy cattle for — and how much it cost you to get them to the next phase,” he says. “I suppose when you get enough people selling through alliances, the laws of supply and demand will work better and the ups and downs in the market will level out.”

Capital, Leverage and Control

Myron Williams, Wall, SD, is a cattle buyer and grow yard operator. He says a lot of cow-calf producers he deals with are still weaning in October and selling on the cash markets through order buyers or action barns.

“Obviously,” he says, “it's where they feel they're getting the best money for their calves.”

Williams says the banking industry can be blamed to some degree for keeping ranchers from trying new marketing approaches.

“When your note is due on Nov. 1, it's kind of hard to venture into anything very creative,” he explains. “And, after what we saw with Future Beef (the former Future Beef Operations, Parker, CO), there's been a lot of caution on the part of venture capitalists to do much more than buy up ranches for recreational land.”

Still, Williams believes there are better days ahead for most ranchers who have stuck it out this long. And he recognizes that coordinated marketing programs will be a part of better times.

“We're starting to build some equity back in the feeding business and that's good for the cattle industry in general,” says Williams. With increased equity comes the wherewithal for feeders to partner-up with ranchers and share some of the risks, he adds.

“The overall economy is going to get better, too, and consumers will have more money to spend on beef,” he predicts.

Beef alliances may certainly bring cow-calf producers a little more leverage, says Ernie Davis, College Station, TX, an agricultural economist with Texas A&M University.

“If you're into an alliance, you're extending ownership of the calf throughout the system and you can go from a loss center to a profit center,” Davis concludes. “It could be the other way around, too, but you know there are certain risks attached anytime you're in business.”

Presently, many cow-calf producers lack control because they are so far removed from the consumer. They have a young animal that's still probably a year away from being finished and ready to go to the packer, Davis explains.

“Alliances are usually coordinated efforts to cross different sectors of the beef industry,” he says. “This extended ownership can often help cow-calf producers gain a little more control of their markets.”

Whatever size ranching operation you have though, once you sell the calf, you've lost control of the market, he warns.

That's how Childress, TX, rancher Minnie Lou Bradley felt 17 years ago when she and her family formed Bradley Premium Beef.

“I felt I wasn't getting the real value for my cattle,” Bradley says. Even though the family owned a purebred cattle operation, we still sold some calves to feeders to be finished as beef.

“I started selling beef off my porch to get a little more value for my cattle,” she adds. “But, it didn't take long before we saw our cooperators improve their cattle, saw them improve their bottom line, and we improved our own bottom line.”

Alliance Web address Contact Year estab. Cattle in alliance in 2002 Average premium paid/head Cost Minimum head Grids geared to QG, YG or both (see key) Par point on grid Carcass weight on grid Harvest states Required genetics Practices required S, W, P, N (see key) Electronic ID capable Retained ownership required Aligned with specific feeders, packers or retailers Cow-calf producer post-harvest premium
Consumer-Based Programs
Angus America
Mark Nelson
1996 159,000 $13.41/hd $2-$6/hd 35 QG Choice YG3 550-949 lbs. NE, CO, KS > 50% Red or Black Angus No Bos indicus None Y N Packer - Excel Corp. N/A
Angus Gene Net
Ken Conway
1998 100,000 $20.24/hd $3/hd 20 Both Choice YG3 535-950 lbs. NE, CO, TX None None Y N Packer - Swift & Co. Y, it is possible
B3R Country Meats
James Henderson/Neal Odom
1986 33,000 $60/hd None 40 Both Choice YG2 650-850 lbs. TX 50% British, 50% Continental, No Bos indicus S, W, P, N Y Y Retailers - confidential Feeders - McLean Feedyard, Heritage Feeders LLP Packer - B3R Country Meats N
Beef Advantage
Darrell Ailshie
931/388-7872 ext. 2235
or Keith Harrison, 615/793-8585
2001 N/A Regular sale commissions/location of sale $1 participation fee to TFC N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A Contact for health and feeding requirements N/A N/A N/A N/A
Blue Ox Farms
Michael or Jeanine McDermott
1993 Few Beef sold from
on-farm sales @ $3/lb
None None N/A Choice or higher 550-750 lbs. N/A Highland 50% N N No, but it's the usual practice N N
Brangus Gene Net
Ken Conway
1999 100,000 $20.24/hd $3/hd 20 Both Choice YG3 535-950 lbs. NE, CO, TX > 25% Brangus None Y N Packer - Swift & Co. Y, it is possible
Caprock Cattle Feeders
Sharing Total Added Value
Ben Brophy
2000 50,000 $20/hd None 120 hd, one sex Both Choice YG3 600-900 lbs. TX, KS > 50% British, 0-50% Continental
0-18.75% Brahman
P Y N Feeder - Caprock Industries
Packer - Excel Corp.
Retailer - Kroger
Certified Angus Beef, LLC
Steve Suther
1978 196,903 Ch/Se + $4/cwt None 1 Both Vary with packer Vary with packer All U.S. Alberta & Ontario >50% Angus None Y Vary with feedlot 80 feeders, 26 packers, 4,000 retailers 4,000 restaurants and international distributors N/A
Certified Hereford Beef
Jim Williams
1995 140,005 $10-$12/hd None N/A Both Choice YG4 or less Select or Choice 600-1,000 lbs. NE, TX 100% British Corn feeding N N Swift & Co. and its feeders Greater Omaha Packing and its feeders Y
Charolais Gene Net
Ken Conway
2001 100,000 $20.24/hd $3/hd 20 Both Base-Choice YG3 535-950 lbs. NE, CO, TX > 25% Charolais None Y N Packer - Swift & Co. Y, it is possible
Coleman Natural Products
Jim or Scott Coakley
1979 66,000+ N/A None 1 Both Depends on grid 600-900 lbs. steer 600-850 lbs. heifer Midwest and Western States > 50% Angus S, P, N N N Feeders - small feeders throughout West and Midwest N
ConAgra Better Beef LLC
Al Perez
1995 250,000 N/A No cost group data, $1-3 individual data Load lots of same sex Both Choice YG3 536-999 lbs. CO, NE, TX British cross and Continental × British feeder cattle S, P Y N Feeders - ConAgra Feedlots Packer - ConAgra N
Consolidated Beef Producers Inc.
Lanny Binger
2000 1,000,000 N/A $3,000 one-time membership fee, $1/hd marketed N/A Both Choice YG3 650-900 lbs. TX, NM, OK, KS, CO, NE, WY N/A N/A N/A N Cooperative owned by member feedyards N/A
Country Natural Beef
Doc & Connie Hatfield
1986 15,000 Cost of production/return on investment Responsibilities of being member of co-op 11 days/year N/A Both High Select low Choice YG1 &2 600-775 lbs. WA Cattle selected by biological type S, N, food alliance certification N Y Retailer - Natural Food Stores Packer - Washington Beef Feeder - Beef Northwest Cost of production/return on investment
Decatur Beef Alliance
Warren Weibert
1994 40,000 Confidential App. $12/hd Load lots of same sex Both Choice YG3 550-950 lbs. KS < 25% Bos indicus S, pre-weaning Y 50% Packer - Excel N/A
Five-State Beef Initiative
Ron Lemenager
1998 7,500 N/A EID tag + data management fee 1 Both N/A 650-850 lbs. Midwest Yes S, W, P Y N N N
Gelbvieh Alliance
Dennis Fennewald
1995 15,809 $9.69/hd $1/hd 1 Both Regional averages 535-1,000 lbs. NE, CO, TX None, 50% Angus, 50% Continental tend to do well on either grid None Y N Packer - Swift Y
Glacier Beef Inc.
Bill Nice
1999 9,800 $20/hd $5/hd + 25% of premium 250 - all steers Both Select YG3, Choice must have 45% 700-900 lbs. MN 50% English, 50% Continental S, process verification Y N Feeder Packer - PM Beef Retailer Y, with retained ownership
Iowa Quality Beef Supply Coop
Phil Core
1999 125,000 Boxed beef-based pricing Must own or lease shares 30 Both Choice YG3A 550-950 lbs. N/A None None Y N Packer - Excel N
Lean Limousin Beef Co. Carlton Noyes
1988 6,000-7,000 $3/cwt. None 1 YG N/A N/A NE >50% Limousin None Y N/A N/A N/A
Maverick Ranch Natural Meats
Bob Rolston
303/294-0146 (O)
303/809-7447 (M)
1985 50,000 N/A None Load lots Both Choice YG1 & 2 700-1,000 lbs. CO 50% British, 50% Continental N N/A N Packer - Double J Meats Selected producers, selected feeders N/A
Montana Range Piedmontese Beef
Ralph R. Peterson
1999 5,000 $0.05-$0.10 HCW $1/eartag N/A Flat premiums Both N/A 750 lbs. N/A Piedmontese sired S, W, P, N N/A N N/A Y
Nebraska Corn-Fed Beef Inc.
Jo McElwain
1997 32,000 $14/hd $4/hd 1 Both Choice YG3 600-1,000 lbs. NE No Bos indicus S, W, P, BQA guidelines Y N Feeder - Nebraska Corn-Fed Beef feedyard Packer - Swift & Co. N
Nolan Ryan's Tender Aged Beef
Coy Meyring
2000 Confidential N/A None 1 N/A Select, YG1 & 2 600-899 lbs. TX None, prefer Bos indicus N Y N Feeder, packer, retailer N
Painted Hills Natural Beef
Mehrten or Glenda Homer
1996 8,000 $50-$60/hd None 25 QG Choice YG2 700-850 lbs. OR 100% British S, N N N Packer - Washington Beef N/A
Performance Plus-Retained Ownership Don Cain Jr.
1993 Confidential $29.49/hd $7.50/hd 1 Both N/A 500-975 lbs. IA, KS, NE, CO, MO, SD 50-75% British, 25-50% Continental MSI scanned Y Y N N
Performance Plus-Sale Barn Don Cain Jr.
1993 Confidential $22.33/hd $8/hd 1 Both N/A 500-975 lbs. IA, KS, NE, CO, MO, SD 50-75% British, 25-50% Continental MSI scanned Y Y N N
PM Beef's Ranch to Retail
Jim Norwood or Leann Saunders
816/880-9500 or
1991 36,000 $30/hd None None Both, primarily YG N/A 600-950 lbs. MN No Bos indicus or dairy breeding S Y N Packer - Windom, MN Feeders - PM Certified Feedlots Y, must meet carcass specifications
Power Genetics
Jason Anderson or Mark Tracy
1993 Confidential Confidential None 35 Both Confidential Confidential Confidential >50% Power Genetics S, W, P Y N Confidential Y
Premium Gold Angus Beef
Ron Vanderboon
1993 100,000 $20-$30/hd None No minimum Both Choice YG3 700-950 lbs. NE, CA 50% Angus N/A Y N Packers - Manning and Tyson Y, with PGA approved bulls
Ranchers Renaissance
John Butler
1997 100,000+ Confidential Confidential 100 Paid based on value created N/A Confidential TX, CO, Canada 50% British, 50% Continental W, P Process verification Y Optional Feeder, packer, retailer Y
Red Angus Feeder Calf Certification Program
Ann Holsinger or Blake Angell
1995 100,000 Depends on location $1.19/hd 1 QG Choice YG3 550-950 lbs. CO, NE, KS 50% Red Angus, calves must have one registered Red Angus parent S N/A N Packer - Excel Corp. N
U.S. Premium Beef Ltd.
Tracy Thomas
1996 700,000 Over $22/hd average top 25% = $46/hd avg. Membership and share access 20 Both 50% Choice YG3 575-1,000 lbs. KS Breeds with high-quality grade carcass traits None Y N Packer - Farmland National Beef Y
Western Beef Alliance Terry O'Neill
1994 2,220 $58/hd $0-7/hd 40 Both YG2.8 and Choice - Select + 600-900 lbs. MN 3/8 British, 5/8 Continental S, W, P, N Y N Packers - PM Beef, Swift & Co. Future Beef FBO, Laura's Lean Beef Y, under certain conditions
Western Grasslands Beef Carolyn Carey
2002 N/A $250/hd $3/hd 1 N/A N/A 1,100 lbs. live weight CA 70% Black or Red Angus S, W, P, N N Y Packer - Sierra Meats N
WRB All Natural Premium Beef Carolyn Carey
1998 N/A