Beef, sheep and goats, oh my
If agriculturists are not able to gain control of the supply
chain the future of agriculture will not flourish. As it is, there
is an incestuous relationship between agriculture and big businesses
that thrives in the dark, and I am here today to shed
some light on the industry, market, and future structures that
can create by-product production and increase the control of
local supply between grower and consumer.
I will dive into the logistics of popular proteins such as
beef as well as less popular proteins such as goat and sheep.
I have solicited the help of local producers of each protein in
Carbon and Emery counties, and in other rural Utah areas. For
the purpose of this article I will keep their names anonymous.
First, let’s discuss the differences between multi-generation
farming, first-generation farmers, and multi-generation farming
without the inheritance of capital in the form of land, animals,
and implements. Inheritance always aids in the development
of an operation’s size and markets to scale.
When a child of a farmer inherits land, livestock, permits,
and equipment, the money they would have spent on the initial
investments can go to new markets, and much more. The business
will grow and more easily enter other industries.
Beef: The consumer’s inconvenience is the beef growers’
largest barriers for gaining more control of local markets. Few
people have the freezer space for a full beef, or the money to
spend up front for a steer on the hoof or hanging. They instead
pay for beef as they need it at higher prices for lower quality.
One option local growers have to gain more control of the
market is to create a farmer-owned co-op that buys from locals
and has an in-house butcher where the meat can be inspected,
cut and wrapped ready to be sold at market price. Unfortunately,
producers, be it beef, corn, or wool, are price takers and never
price makers. Consumers set the price for all except the largest
producers. Waiting to sell for a future price means spending
money storing or feeding for an additional year, or selling at
auctions. There are downsides of auctions in all industries. For
example, animals must be trailered in.
There are ways for producers to control the supply chain
in various ways. They include niche marketing, agritourism,
strategic by-product sales, and vertically integrated marketing.
Finding niche markets lets farmers become price makers for
specific products. This gives them a small window in every
category of production.
A large by-product market in the the beef industry is leather.
However, there are 111 leather tanning facilities in the United
States and more and more specialize in wild game hides instead
of cow hides. If beef growers could break in, tanned cowhides
could be sold as rugs, and tooling leather could be sold to private
individuals as well as businesses. This market is most likely to
be obtained from butchers, feedlots, and vertically integrated
One of the most common vertically integrated beef markets
is jerky that can be marketed as artisan, fresh, or homemade and
bring higher prices than brand-name jerky in convenience stores.
Sheep: Sheep is a lesser protein but its demand has risen
steadily with the influx of immigrants into the area. Sheep has
the same benefits as beef, plus the by-product sales of wool.
Now, most wool growers have been selling raw wool right off the
sheep. But one of the largest wool buyers in the country is the
U.S. Army which acquires nearly 25 percent of wool produced.
However, they only buy as needed, not in surplus, and wool
producers have been known to sit on sheared wool for years.
There is a brighter future for wool because it can be spun
locally and spun into a usable thread, which can be made into
blankets, crocheting yarn, bows, and more.
This provides a local good that is otherwise hard to find. The
by-products of sheep can increase profits above meat production
and in businesses where prices can be set.
Goats: Much like beef and sheep, goats would benefit from
farmer-owned cooperatives, but they encounter the hardship
of being a less-popular protein and victim of market slaughter.
Goat producers have been forced to take market prices or
make nearly unattainable contracts with feedlots that are not
easily met. Goats milk could benefit from niche marketing
and strategic advertisement. It’s most commonly used for
supplements in weaner calves, or a protein substitute in young
pigs. Goats milk could also be used for those individuals with
sensitivities to dairy in cooking ingredients, drinks, and butters.
An unusual use of goats is in the energy fields. No, they’re
not used for mining coal or turning wheels, but to eat down
vegetation along power line plots, and as fire management.
When the job is done, they are sent off for meat production.
The future of agriculture and the
producers’ livelihood is dependent
on gaining control of the local supply
chain. It will take work from local and
state agencies working towards the same
goal. It will require producers to work
with their competitors, develop skills
outside of the normal, and think outside
of traditional production.