A glance at grading trends: Quality rules the cooler

Despite rough weather, carcass quality grades show how well and how quickly beef producers have responded to consumer demands.

Nevil Speer

April 17, 2019

1 Min Read
Quality grade in 2019
Nevil Speer

Quality grading has been nothing short of phenomenal thus far in 2019. That’s somewhat surprising given the harsh weather and pen conditions during the past several months. Nevertheless, in the middle of March the percentage of Prime surpassed 10% of the total slaughter mix. That’s an extra 1.5% versus this time last year. 

Better yet, this year’s pace is double versus just four years ago in March. In other words, just since 2015, the beef industry has doubled its output of Prime while also ramping up total weekly production by over 60 million pounds. That’s a significant accomplishment in a very short period of time!  

To that end, one reader asked about the slaughter mix and the proportion that gets quality graded. In other words, is the reported percentage of Prime and Choice increasing simply because fewer carcasses are actually being presented to USDA graders? If that’s the case, the industry isn’t really improving - the improvement is just an artifact of a smaller mix that’s being graded.  

Quality grade in 2019

This week’s graph addresses that question. The data represent both the percentage of cattle being graded and the cumulative percentage of Choice and Prime within the mix.

The proportion of the slaughter mix being assigned a USDA quality grade has remained fairly steady at just slightly above 95%. Meanwhile, the share of Prime and Choice carcasses continues to climb, with the 12-month moving average now above 80%.

All that underscores the significance of grading improvements over time – it’s truly an industry-wide achievement. Clearly, that’s an important trend solidifying beef demand in recent years.  

Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, Ky. Contact him at [email protected]

About the Author(s)

Nevil Speer

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY.

Nevil Speer has extensive experience and involvement with the livestock and food industry including various service and consultation projects spanning such issues as market competition, business and economic implications of agroterrorism, animal identification, assessment of price risk and market volatility on the producer segment, and usage of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
Dr. Speer writes about many aspects regarding agriculture and the food industry with regular contribution to BEEF and Feedstuffs.  He’s also written several influential industry white papers dealing with issues such as changing business dynamics in the beef complex, producer decision-making, and country-of-origin labeling.
He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
Dr. Speer holds both a PhD in Animal Science and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Contact him at [email protected].

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