By Drew Slattery

Emerging Trends In Sustainable Beef

August 16, 2021

Three major takeaways from NCBA’s 2021 cattlemen’s convention. 

Last week, the cattle industry gathered in Nashville for the annual NCBA Cattlemen’s Convention. The event draws thousands of cattle industry members from across the value chain – producer to retailer and every link in between – to discuss emerging trends in the industry as well as forecasts for what’s to come.  

The event culminated on Thursday morning with the NCBA’s public unveiling of their sustainability commitments (which can be viewed here). However, I found the most interesting and valuable content to be the many side-conversations I had throughout the week with friends and colleagues, both new and old. 

Key takeaways from Nashville: 

  • Animal health can contribute to climate health  
    • Whether it is probiotics, implants, pharmaceuticals, or feed additives – a whole host of animal health products are entering the market that will radically change the way we manage beef production for environmental impacts. Herd health management decisions can reduce animal grain consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and time on feed/in confinement (not to mention illness). With these tools at producers’ disposal, animal wellbeing can rise while climate impact falls. A win-win.   
  • Grazing carbon markets are going to be complicated   
    • Carbon markets are top of mind for most people in the row-crop space right now, and for good reason, as they are poised to impact agriculture in a serious way. But these markets making the jump to grazing still feels like a long way off. Those working around beef production might do well to temper their expectations for now.  corn or soy field that has extensive soil testing and a fully documented plant biome is different from a field of rugged western land with unknown soil types, radically changing slopes and elevation, and potentially hundreds if not thousands of plant varieties. The math driving the accounting on grazing lands will take a while to catch up, as will the technology to audit. 
  • Digital tools for ranch management will redefine tradition  
    • New technology stacks are emerging to improve recordkeeping and decision making for cattle producers. From recording animal health data and breeding decisions in an integrated environment, to managed grazing plans – software is poised to reshape how American beef producers think about their operations.  

Tradition may have defined beef production up until now, it is becoming clear that innovation is likely to define its future.   

Image provided by the Indiana NRCS via Flickr

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