The Oregon rangeland that surrounds Ted Bloomer's home has provided his family with a good living for nearly 40 years.
At one time, this was isolated country, and the business of raising commercial cattle was a straightforward, cyclical process.
But times are changing, the world is smaller, and Bloomer recognizes his ranch needs to have a direct link not only to consumers across the Northwest, but also around the world.
“We became involved with AngusSource to be proactive,” says Bloomer, who ranches near Durkee.
“We felt like it was becoming more important to document the age of the cattle we're selling so that we could sell cattle into the international market. I did a lot of research, and I know that the Japanese and others are really concerned about health issues in beef. So it became apparent that we needed to provide them with cattle that we can prove their age,” he says.
AngusSource, an industry-leading USDA Process Verified Program (PVP), was launched by the American Angus Association in October 2005.
The eligibility requirements are relatively simple to meet, says Sara Moyer-Snider, director of the program:
“Cattle must be sired by a registered Angus bull. Calves must be enrolled by the ranch of origin, and at minimum, must have a record verifying the birth date of the oldest calf within the enrollment group,” she says.
Cattle enrolled in the program are identified with the official program eartag and certificate, and their identification remains intact throughout their animal's lifetime and through all marketing and production channels.
“We've run about 200 cattle through the program,” Bloomer says, “and we're glad we did it.”
Value of participation
Last year, Bloomer retained ownership of about 100 Angus calves through Beef Northwest Feeders, a leading cattle feeding company based in North Powder, Ore.
Because the calves arrived with individually identified AngusSource eartags, Bloomer not only received a $35/head premium from Tyson but also some powerful individual-animal carcass data from Beef Northwest, which he can now use to evaluate the genetic merit of his herd bulls.
The AngusSource program is also highly advantageous for Beef Northwest and Tyson, because cattle that qualify for the program come from known sources of quality, Angus genetics. That's a big plus, especially when it comes to qualifying cattle for value-added programs like Certified Angus Beef.
“This is really an inexpensive program for ranchers to participate in. We're getting anywhere from $25 to $30/head premiums for age-verified cattle right now,” says Ron Rowan, director of Beef Northwest's risk management and alliance-development programs.
“But the real power of the program is that people can use it as a management tool at the ranch. You can use information on individual carcasses to identify which sires in your bull battery produce the highest-quality carcasses. If you have this kind of information, you can really make dramatic improvements in the quality of your cow herd,” he says.
Global impacts of PVPs
Perhaps the greatest value of PVP programs like AngusSource, explains Mike Smith of California-based Harris Ranch Beef Company, is that they provide a direct information link between all sectors of the cattle industry.
Harris Ranch is the leading U.S. beef producer, packer and exporter of U.S. beef to Japan.
“The one issue that dominated the attention of the U.S. beef industry in recent years was export market accessibility,” says Smith. “When we lost many of our beef exports markets several years ago, it's estimated the U.S. beef industry was losing $3.5 billion per year, or roughly $150 for every fed steer and heifer marketed each year.”
A key component to recapturing, holding and expanding export markets, says Smith, is through enhanced record-keeping systems like AngusSource by all involved in beef production – and preventing problems before they get shipped overseas.
Japan in particular requires all beef imported into its country to be processed by USDA-certified plants and procured from suppliers who are PVP or QSA certified, says Smith.
“Without question, the most restrictive export requirements imposed on us are from Japan,” says Smith. “Not only are detailed and descriptive processing procedures and record keeping required, but all beef and beef products marketed to Japan must be obtained from cattle determined to be 20 months of age or younger at harvest.”
Already, two of the nation's largest packers – Tyson Fresh Meats and National Beef – have recognized the value of AngusSource.
As in Bloomer's case, they're using the program to identify genetically superior cattle for meeting and exceeding their specifications for Angus-specific brands. Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB), which operates the world's largest branded beef program, also uses AngusSource to qualify Angus cattle for the brand regardless of hide-color.
Feedlots, too, are seeking out AngusSource cattle, because they're fully aware of the added value and market flexibility of these cattle. They can also be accepted into any feedlot's pre-existing PVP or USDA Quality Assessment (QSA) programs.
“For farmer-feeders who market directly to packers, AngusSource offers a Feedyard Umbrella Program for ranch-enrolled calves,” says Moyer.
“In addition, our commercial programs department is working with auction markets throughout the country to organize special AngusSource sales. These sales, held in conjunction with the auction markets' regularly scheduled value-added calf sales, allow producers the opportunity to work with other producers to market large numbers of AngusSource calves to potential buyers.”
The bottom line
For Bloomer, one of the unexpected benefits of AngusSource is the opportunity to permanently identify females in his cow herd as AngusSource cattle – and this enables him to capture greater demand for heifers and mature cows from buyers interested in purchasing quality, proven Angus genetics.
“I can see this really being helpful for us down the road,” Bloomer says.
Best of all, producers like Bloomer are well positioned in the future to capitalize on other emerging opportunities and premiums in the marketplace.
“One of the powerful attributes of AngusSource is that it also enhances a producer's ability to comply with requirements of programs like Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and National Animal Identification System (NAIS),” says Moyer-Snider.
“Through AngusSource, ranchers are learning first hand the benefits of being involved in the marketplace,” Rowan says. “Age verification is a relatively easy thing to track. But the great thing about AngusSource is that it lays the foundation for other verification opportunities that may be coming down the road. In the future, we could see consumers wanting feed verification or health verification on the beef they buy. As an industry, we need to be prepared for that.”
Adds Bloomer: “Programs like AngusSource put more dollars in the pockets of producers because they're eligible to participate in so many different markets. That's what this business is all about. And it's why ranchers like me need to be taking a look at it.”
For more information about AngusSource, please visit www.angussource.com.