Beef Barons

Kentucky turns to beef
to replace tobacco as king

State coalition provides
education, money to cattle producers

By Don Ward

(March 2009) – If you’re eating steak tonight, there’s a good chance it was raised in Kentucky.

March 2009 Indiana & Kentucky Edition Cover

March 2009
Indiana & Kentucky
Edition Cover

Once known primarily for thoroughbred horses, burley tobacco and bourbon, the Bluegrass State in recent years has earned a new reputation as a top beef cattle producer. With 44,000 beef cattle producers and more than 1.1 million head, it already ranks as the top cattle-producing state east of the Mississippi River.
How did Kentucky move from tobacco to T-bones in just a few short years? It did so with farmer education classes administered by University of Kentucky College of Agriculture professors through its Cooperative Extension Services, a unique marketing program to promote beef to consumers, and the combined support of various agricultural-related organizations and businesses. Ironically, much of this was funded by tobacco settlement money through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund. This fund was created by the Kentucky General Assembly in the 2000 session to invest half of Kentucky’s share of master tobacco settlement funds in agricultural development projects. The state invested $279 million by the end of 2008, much of it in beef cattle production.
In addition to money, chief among these effort is the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, a 9,237-member organization based in Lexington with chapters representing the state’s entire 120 counties. KCA sponsors a number of initiatives, including the “Master Cattlemen” “Advanced Master Cattlemen,” Master Grazer” and Cow College educational series that are taught by UK professors at extension service offices around the state. Since the Master Cattlemen courses began in 2000 with a pilot program in only three counties, more than 2,776 people – cattle producers and non-producers alike – have completed eight of the 10 monthly classes to earn their certificate as “Master Cattlemen” and completed additional Beef Quality Assurance certification. The latter certification is a written questionnaire that registers a producer as having undergone training in proper management techniques and production standards.

CPH-45 Sales Ring

Photo provided

The CPH-45 sales,
are a central part
of the state’s overall Strategic Plan for
marketing premium
beef cattle.

By the end of this year, there will have been 3,073 participants in the Master Cattlemen program statewide, some of whom may have not attended the minimum of eight classes required to earn their certificate, according to Lori Porter, UK’s Animal Sciences Extension Associate.
“The Master Cattleman program gave me the knowledge to feel comfortable running my own hobby beef farm,” said Oldham County resident and beef cattle producer Jon Bednarski.
“Not only were the instructors informative, but networking with the other farmers in the class was invaluable. I still find myself using the written information that was provided to answer my farming questions. The best part was that the Master Cattleman’s program gave me the knowledge and motivated me to start my own retail beef business selling direct to consumers.”
Bednarski sells all-natural beef by the piece through his La Grange-based Sherwood Acres Beef farm, with much of it sold at the Louisville Farmers Market.
The tobacco settlement money provided through the state’s Agriculture Development Board is managed and distributed by the 12-member University of Kentucky Beef Integrated Resource Management Coordinating Committee. Created in 1995, the IRM, now headed by state coordinator Jay Busby, is the model by which Kentucky agriculture officials have implemented the state’s Master Plan for Kentucky Agricultural Economic Development, with regard to beef production. The IRM coordinating committee has developed and funded the various educational programs statewide to help meet the maximum potential of the state’s beef cattle operations. The challenge is ominous, considering that more than 38,000, or 86 percent, of Kentucky’s cattle producers have herds of less than 50 head each.

Area Beef Production
by (Local) County

Trimble County
Value of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. beef cattle and calves $2.49 million; 2. tobacco $2.38 million; 3. grains $1.14 million.
Beef cattle head: 8,462 (79th in state)
Kentucky Cattlemen’s Associa
tion members: 90
Beef cattle producers: 267
CPH-45 participants: 15
Acres of farmland: 65,098
Farms: 489
Ave. farm size: 133 acres

Oldham County
Value of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. horses $8.26 million; 2. nurseries and greenhouses $3,67 million; 3. grains $2.67 million.
Beef cattle head: 8,319 (81st in state)
Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association members: 44
Beef cattle producers: N/A
CPH-45 participants: 5
Acres of farmland: 60,024
Farms: 461
Ave. farm size: 130 acres

Henry County
Value of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. beef cattle and calves $8.8 million; 2. tobacco $8.44 million; 3. milk cows $3.56 million.
Beef cattle head: 27,594 (32nd in state)
Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association members: 164
Beef cattle producers: N/A
CPH-45 participants: 15
Acres of farmland: 146,399
Farms: 962
Ave. farm size: 152 acres

Carroll County
Value of sale by commodity group (top 3): 1. beef cattle and calves $2.38 million; 2. grains $325,000; 3. other crops and hay $266,000.
Beef cattle head: 8,749 (77th in state)
Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association members: 55
Beef cattle producers: 300
CPH-45 participants: 5
Acres of farmland: 63,708
Farms: 326
Ave. farm size: 195 acres

State of Kentucky
Value of sale by commodity group (top 5): 1. poultry and eggs $978 million; 2. horses $952 million; 3. beef cattle and calves $935 million; 4. grains $867 million; 5. milk cows $250 million.
(Note: 2007 was the first year on record that tobacco was not in the list of top 5 agricultural commodities in Kentucky.)
Beef cattle head: 2.395 million
Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association members: 9,23
Total acres in state: 25,388,000 acres
Acres of farmland: 13.993 million (54 percent)
Farms: 85,260
Ave. size farm: 164 acres
Market value of production-ave. per farm: $56,586
Ave. govt. payments per farm: $3,494

Source: County Extension Agents and 2007 Ky Dept. of Agriculture Census

The IRM coordinating committee also has held extension agent training statewide to help educate those agents who may not have had livestock backgrounds but who are now in a position to promote better farm techniques and economics to their local cattle producers.
“Everything sort of came together at the same time,” said Dave Maples, an Alabama native who has served as the KCA’s executive director for the past decade. “And I am constantly amazed at how many people are registering for our annual convention, which I think is a sign of the growth in the industry.”
More than 1,300 people registered for at least one event at the January convention in Lexington. Maples said it is fast becoming one of the largest events for Kentucky beef producers.
In addition to supporting farmer education programs, the KCA provides money through it foundation for student scholarships and lobbies Kentucky lawmakers on issues that will benefit beef producers. “When I came here, it was always tobacco and horses; today, a lot of folks still don’t realize just how big beef cattle is in this state.”
Phase I tobacco money also has provided thousands of 50-50 cost share dollars to farmers throughout the state to upgrade their cattle handling facilities, establish hay storage, purchase high quality bulls and improve water and fencing for their herds. In Trimble County alone, since 2001, $1.652 million has been provided to farmers, who must match the amount of money they receive, essentially doubling the county’s investment in farming operations.
In 2007, $206,746 was doled out to Trimble County farmers to upgrade their operations, according to Trimble County Ag Extension Agent Michael Pyles.
“These programs are having significant impact not only in Trimble County, but all over the state,” Pyles said.
In addition, this statewide coalition of UK educators and ag industry businesses has earned its top beef producer status by marketing its premium beef calves through the Certified Precond-itions for Health, or CPH-45 sales. These specialized beef cattle sales are held at certain times of the year throughout the state with certain restrictions in place to ensure feed lot buyers that they are getting a top quality and consistent product. Cattle must be weaned 45 days, meet a minimum weight, and have had all their required shots and booster shots to become eligible for the sale. The sales are sanctioned by the KCA, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and UK Department of Agriculture. About 50,000 head of premium calves are marketed annually through the sales, and they even attract producers from several neighboring states.

Beef Resources Online:
Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association: www.kycattle.org
UK Dept. of Agriculture: http://ces2.ca.uky.edu/ces
Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture: www.kyagr.com
Kentucky Beef Council: www.kybeef.com
Kentucky CPH-45 Sales: www.cph45.com
Beef Quality Assurance: www.bqa.org
Beef recipes; consumer health tips: www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com
National Checkoff Program: www.beeffrompasturetoplate.org

“Registering cattle for the CPH-45 sales requires a little more cattle management and financial resources, but it has proven to pay off in the long run,” said Pyles. “Our goal is to get more producers to utilize this marketing system because it helps promote consistency in Kentucky beef cattle production.”
Busby, whose job includes promoting the CPH-45 program, says the state is currently marketing about 33,000 head a year through the premium sale. “But we need to get that up to 50,000 to 65,000 range to make our beef cattle a predictable product we can bank on. It’s up to producers to get involved,” he said. “We’re just here to support it.”
Busby said the Master Cattlemen program is the flagship of all components. “Its a comprehensive plan to get producers into CPH-45 and show them why CPH makes sense for them.”

The boom in Kentucky beef
In recent years, Kentucky has emerged as the largest beef cattle producer east of the Mississippi River. Industry experts credit education, promotion and incentives to farmers, all of which has been organized through the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and it extension services. Other organizations supporting the effort include the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association and agri-businesses. Today, Kentucky has more than 1.1 million head of beef cows and more than 40,000 producers and ranks fifth nationally in number of farms. The Kentucky Cattlemen's Association has grown to 93 chapters in all 120 counties.

These premium sales allow small cow-calf farmers to sell their small numbers of beef cattle in larger lot sizes of like-size and type by grouping them with other herds, thus enabling them to earn top dollars in the market from large companies who then finish the animals to slaughter weight in feed lots out west.
“The CPH 45 marketing program helps establish consistency in the quality of our beef so it can be sold for top prices on the market,” said Dr. Roy Burris, 61, a Tennessee native who has served as UK’s Extension Beef Specialist since 1981 at the university’s research farm in Princeton, Ky.
But Burris acknowledged that the 4,000 or so graduates of Master Cattlemen represents only 10 percent of the state’s total beef producers. “We’re on track, but we need to do more to make people aware of it.”
Burris said the 10 four-hour classes include session on being good stewards of the environment. “It’s important that the public knows we are producing healthy, wholesome beef in an environmentally friendly way and in humane conditions; that we care about the environment in our effort to convert grass into beef.”
The CPH-45 program has been in use for nearly 30 years but only recently saw significant growth, according to Kenny Burdine, a UK Extension Beef Marketing Associate. “Loss of tobacco and increased dependence on cattle led to an explosion of interest in CPH-45 in the late 1990s,” said Burdine, who teaches one of the Master Cattlemen marketing classes.
Kentucky is predominately a cow-calf state, with few cattle actually “finished” to slaughter weight. That is done by bigger companies using large feed lots in Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and other western states. Kentucky cattle are transported out west to be finished, then sold to packaging houses who in turn supply grocers with the beef to sell to consumers.

Beef Cattle

Photo provided

Beef cattle in recent years have replaced
tobacco as one of Kentucky's top
five agricultural industries.

Milton, Ky., beef producer Barry Joyce is an avid supporter of CPH-45 and sells about 50 head of Angus calves through the program in Lexington. He has nearly 60 head of cows on his 300-acre farm and estimates he pockets $100 profit per head on average.
“I wouldn’t sell my calves any other way,” said Joyce, 61, who serves as the secretary-treasurer of the 90-member Trimble County Cattlemen’s Association. “I have consistently sold close to top market price or above.”
Joyce cites the benefits of the CPH-45 sale as producing a conditioned, weaned, healthy calf that is ready for market; receiving a better market price per pound; adding weight gain to the calf by feeding at least 45 days before the sale. He admits, however, that it requires more labor and better cattle handling facilities to accommodate the sale restrictions.
To help fund marketing of beef to the consumer, Kentucky in recent years has used the Beef Checkoff Program. This program charges producers $1 for each head of cattle sold (in both CPH-45 and non-CPH-45 sales) and uses the money for its marketing costs. Fifty cents of that $1 goes to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, which oversees the Checkoff programs; the other half stays in Kentucky to fund state coordinated activities, such as education, promotion, research and consumer information.
In addition, the Kentucky Beef Council, which operates under the auspices of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, has worked with Kroger and other retailers to market new cuts of beef to be more consumer friendly. For example, the thin flat-iron steaks have become popular with consumers who want quick, easy, microwavable cuts of beef. Flat-iron steak comes from the less popular chuck roast. Other beef promotions include nutrition education for health professionals and education kits for students and foodservice companies to help increase beef demand. The council also partners with food retailers to make shopping for beef easier. The latter effort in recent years has been successful in promoting the advertising slogan: “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.”
The Kentucky Beef Council is one of 46 state beef councils nationwide working in the producer-led promotion of beef.
At recent Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association Conventions, held annually in January in Lexington, chefs demonstrated various new cuts of beef that are being developed for the consumer market. These efforts are designed to make beef more desirable in the grocery store and put more profits in the pockets of producers.
Finally, efforts in Kentucky to establish high quality and consistency in beef production has helped restore confidence in beef among the foreign markets. One aspect of these efforts is a program to establish source and age verification of cattle through farm identification numbers assigned to each producer. The farm I.D. program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Process Verified Program, or PVP. The goal is to provide customers with assurance of the ability to provide consistent, quality products. If a problem ever occurs with an animal, it can be traced back to the farm from where it came. These premise identification numbers are required for selling cattle through Kentucky’s CPH-45 program.

Roy Burris

Photo provided

UK’s Beef Specialist Roy Burris
addresses a group of Master Cattlemen participants at a hands-on field day.

As a result of such efforts, Japan, the largest importer of American beef, has nearly returned to the once high levels of imports since the first reported case in 1986 of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, a degenerative neurological disease of cattle, that was first discovered in the United Kingdom.
The recent downturn in the nation’s economy and the 2006 drought has taken a hit on Kentucky’s beef cattle producers, according to Busby. The state’s total herd has declined due to rising costs of feed, fuel and hay. But he believes the future still holds much opportunity for expanding the market and profitability for producers. One opportunity lies in the consumers’ desire for all-natural beef by the piece. Another is finding way to market beef directly to consumers through local farmers’ markets and grocery stores.
“I am personally interested in the all-natural beef phenomenon and am looking for ways to develop programs that may help our producers go in different directions, “ he said. “We must constantly watch the markets and cater to what our consumers want in order to be successful – and profitable.”

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