Will electronic grading change the way we produce cattle?
Glen Dolezal, Director of New Technology Applications, EXCEL Corp., Wichita, KS
There are a lot of opportunities in the beef industry today, Glen Dolezal, director of new technology applications for Excel Corp., Wichita, Kan., told the crowd at the 2003 Range Beef Cow Symposium Dec. 9. Among the opportunities he identified were food safety; carcass weight and size; inconsistencies in quality, cutability and tenderness; and country-of-origin labeling (sometimes referred to as COL or COOL). While not all of these issues are new, the beef industry can continue to monitor and improve.
Glen Dolezal, director of new technology applications for Excel Corp., outlined Excel's goals to balance production performance and carcass merit, to have a safe food product, to avoid outs such as dark cutters, to control carcass weights, to target for Yield Grade (YG) 3.4 or better, and to have moderate muscling and to tenderness.
One way Excel is working to capitalize on opportunities is through its electronic grading system. Dolezal discussed how this technology could answer key industry questions, including how to deliver better beef; how to coordinate the supply chain to make decisions that will benefit retailers, foodservice and consumers; and how to better manage product usage.
Excel uses the Canadian Vision System by Research Management Services (RMS), which now has an office in Fort Collins, Colo. This camera is operating in all six North American Excel fed beef plants. It evaluates beef carcasses daily for fat thickness, ribeye area (REA), percent marbling, lean color and fat color.
The company goal when it first implemented the vision cameras was to successfully scan 95% of the image captures. Today, Excel is capturing 97% accuracy.
Dolezal said the vision camera has provided benefits for its customers and has been an "excellent tool for supplier feedback, plan sorting and customer service."
"We drive our business off of this camera," Dolezal said, adding he is confident he can sit in his Wichita office, view the electronic file from the Nebraska plant and identify which carcasses should have graded Slight, Small or Moderate marbling; which were dark cutters; and which had poor fat color.
This vision grading system has allowed Excel to evaluate its U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) graders. Dolezal shared a chart documenting several graders based on the plant average and pointed out areas where a grader was under average in grading for such traits as ribeye and marbling. These would be areas of improvement, he pointed out.
The vision camera has allowed Excel to work with suppliers on premium brands. He expressed concern about a small REA [9 square inches (sq. in.) or smaller] going into a premium brand such as Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) or Sterling Silver. He uses the cameras to kick out REA less than 10 sq. in.
Dolezal said that to make this information useful to others in the supply chain, there is a need for individual animal identification (ID). "If you bring us steers without individual ID, then how do you know how to line up [the information] to maximize the benefit?" he questioned.
Dolezal said information flow will happen. Current alliances will be first to have information feedback because they have been with the company longest. Eventually this will be payment-driven. Data exchange may take place to incorporate management decisions, genetics and such. Electronic transfer will take place, and there will be certain expectations, including confidentiality or a letter of understanding when sharing information.
by Corinne Patterson
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