The Tuesday morning JAM poster session started bright and early at 7:30am, with graduate students on hand to explain their hard-earned research. One poster on display was, “The environmental, economic and social implications of improving yield and average daily gain in beef production” by Robin R. White and Judith L. Capper of Washington State University. With the increasing consumer desire for sustainable foods, this poster is extremely relevant to producers.
The objective of the study was “To quantify the changes in environmental impact, profitability and social acceptability of the U.S. beef industry due to increasing average daily gain by 15 percent and increasing the finishing weight by 15 percent, with the goal of producing one billion kilograms of beef.” The basis for her work was the increased demand for more sustainable food and in beef; increased efficiency reduces the environmental impact. In the study, sustainability was defined as a balance of social, economic and environmental aspects. In the past, few studies have researched the effect of management practices on economic viability and social acceptability of beef production.
The research model and measurements included cow/calf, stocker and feedlot sectors along with the cropland necessary to provide feed. A life cycle assessment was used to measure emissions and the environmental impact of the increase in average daily gains and finishing weight. There were three treatments studied including, “control” cattle, “increased gain” cattle and “increased yield” cattle. The control diets were balanced for each animal population using Agricultural Modeling and Training Software (AMTS) Cattle Pro.
When asked how feasible it will be to increase average daily gain and finishing weight by 15 percent, White responded by saying that changes will be made through dietary changes. She also said that there is the assumption that beef cattle have the ability to change through genetic selection so better utilize dietary changes. There is still a question of response time and industry-wide adoption of making dietary changes. White stated that full industry adoption is probably not going to happen so there will be more focus placed on farm-level adoption. Another issue the beef industry might run into, with an increase in average daily gain and finishing weight, is the size of the animal.
“We are getting to the maximum animal size,” said White in relation to packing facilities’ ability to handle larger animals.
Conclusions from the study for both producers and consumers include increasing beef yield per animal helps to reduce the number of animals needed in the system. By reducing animal numbers, inputs are reduced. Consumer purchase price will decrease and sustainability will increase which will help to booster social acceptability. White said that even though beef store prices will decrease, farmers will still see a profit increase because they sell more meat per animal and feed costs will decrease.
Future implications from this research will be to develop a farm-level analysis of management practices that would be implemented to help increase average daily gain and finishing weight. Measuring consumer willingness to pay for beef will be important, and White stated that they are hoping to do meat “silent auctions” where consumers write down what they are willing to pay for a certain product especially one that is labeled as having a lower environmental impact.
“It always comes back to price,” White concluded.