The primary focus of any dairy producer is to produce high-quality milk from healthy, well-cared-for cows. While this admirable goal seems simple, everyone involved in the dairy industry knows it is not as easy as it seems.

As with any production system, there is a complex set of practices that work together to achieve a single goal, but dairymen have two goals, making their operations even more complex:

1. Dairies produce high-quality milk for consumers.

2. Dairy producers are also an important piece of the global beef supply.

For many dairy producers, beef is often viewed as a byproduct of the milk-producing operation; however, moving beef to front-of-mind should be vitally important to all dairy producers.


Why should beef be a top priority for dairy producers?

Consumer confidence. As consumers become more involved in choosing products that align with their personal values, it is important that both traditional beef production operations and dairy producers employ the best cattle management practices in a manner that leads to consumer confidence in beef.

Market research conducted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) indicates that consumers don’t differentiate beef and dairy cattle when it comes to the beef products they purchase.

According to Shawn Darcy, associate director of market research at NCBA, “Nearly 60 percent of beef consumers feel that at least some of their beef comes from dairy cattle; 30 percent claim that at least half of the beef they consume comes from dairy cattle.”

Consumer confusion is understandable when marketing efforts by major food service chains instruct people to “eat more chicken,” as opposed to beef, and use dairy cattle to share this message.

Major news and media organizations associate dairy cattle with the beef supply and have caused food safety scares.

With all of these product associations and a society that is two generations removed from the farm, it is no wonder why consumers are confused about where their food comes from.

Regardless of their motivations, it is clear consumers are seeking transparency in food production before they make their buying choices at the supermarket. In fact, 59 percent of consumers shared that it is important or extremely important restaurants and grocery stores provide information about the way the food they sell is grown or raised.

Forty percent of consumers from 21 to 29 years old indicate they often make food purchasing decisions because the product offered more information about how or where it was grown or raised, as compared to just 24 percent of consumers age 50 to 65 that use this kind of information in their decisions.

More than half of consumers say they have less information than they want from the food they purchase at the grocery store, which has led 40 percent of consumers to indicate “the food industry has something to hide.”

When asked to indicate what issues they were most concerned about, millennials indicated that inhumane treatment, hormone use and crowded conditions were at the top of their lists.

Using best practices in cattle management, and allowing your neighbors and others access to your operations in different ways to help better connect them with the day-to-day realities of a dairy farm, helps build consumer confidence in both their milk and their beef.

It is essential dairymen produce a high-quality, safe beef product to help build confidence in all production animal agriculture; everyone in the industry benefits from positive stories coming from our nation’s farm operations.

It pays to produce good beef. With one of the smallest beef herds in recent U.S. history, and high domestic and international beef demand, the value of beef is at an all-time high.

According to the Livestock Marketing Information Center, current beef production in the U.S. is 24.2 billion pounds; of that, 4.7 billion pounds can be attributed to cattle that entered the beef supply through the dairy industry. That’s nearly 20 percent of total beef production.

Building consumer confidence starts with you

Luckily, both dairymen and cattlemen can contribute to ensuring consumers have an enjoyable eating experience by sharing their stories and employing best practices in cattle management.

While consumers have concerns and confusion over the food supply, we know what they want to hear when they engage with the agriculture industry.

When asked what they believed farmers and ranchers should try to accomplish, consumers indicated the following:

  • Continuously improve methods used to provide healthy food.
  • Help consumers know more about where their food comes from.
  • Reassure consumers their food is safe and healthy.
  • Identify and share best practices.

The beef and dairy industries have programs producers can participate in to address the concerns of consumers.

The Dairy Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program is a set of practical management tools dairymen can implement to ensure they are doing their part. Participation in industry cattle management programs like Dairy BQA allows producers to share their story with consumers and show they are committed to continuous improvement and producing a high-quality, safe beef product.

For more information on the Dairy Beef Quality Assurance program and how you can better manage your herd for entry into the beef supply chain to maximize profits and help build consumer confidence, please visit the website. PD

Chase DeCoite is a manager of beef quality assurance with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.