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Range Beef Cow Symposium
December 9 - 11, 2003
Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds Events Center, Mitchell, NE

How will cattlemen deal with the future?
Marc Vanacht, Ag Business Consultants, St. Louis, MO

Marc Vanacht an ag business consultant, said, "Every two to three years consumers change their thinking on food choices." Beef producers need to focus on those demands and needs of the consumers to stay competitive.
"The future is now," Marc Vanacht, an ag futurist, told participants at the 2003 Range Beef Cow Symposium in Mitchell, Neb., Dec. 10. Vanacht has worked in the ag industry since 1976 and has traveled around the world studying food systems and technologies.

Vanacht encouraged producers to be the best of the best. "Now is the time to invest in reducing cost of production, so you are better prepared for the next downturn in prices," he said. "Now is the time to invest in quality, so that whatever the economic situation, you always get more than the average. Now is the time to integrate into the value chain. Stop selling commodity stock; be the Lexus, don’t be the Chevy Cavalier."

To accomplish such goals, Vanacht told the group that the beef industry’s future hinges on quality. "Quality pays. Quality means profit. But in the current environment, quality also means documentation, security and proof of security," he said.

He pointed to the legislation for country-of-origin labeling (sometimes referred to as COL or COOL), increasing concern over protecting the food and water chain from bioterrorism, and other food-safety regulations being considered as examples of the impending importance of supplying quality food with documentation.

Specifically, Vanacht reported that this past year, Cargill integrated its orange juice and baby-food chains. "This means Cargill can trace back every food ingredient in those products," he said. Vanacht pointed out that Cargill now owns the meat company Excel. "If Cargill did this with baby food, they can also do it with beef and, one day, tell you producers they want only identity-preserved beef."

How do producers prepare for such requirements? An important tool that can help the beef industry provide quality and security is radio frequency identification (RFID), Vanacht said. He pointed to several animal ID programs around the globe that use this technology already. He predicted that within the next two to three years, it would be commonplace.

"Quality requires traceability. Quality chains from the animal to the consumer can be done, but the whole chain has to comply," he said. "RFID has been proven in large-scale tests in beef. It works."

That said, Vanacht encouraged beef producers to embrace technology and prepare their operations to fit the demands of the consumer in the future.

— by Kindra Gordon

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