November 2, 2018

Beer, Beef, and Sustainability?


This fall at the 2018 Women in Agribusiness Summit in Denver, Colorado, Temple Grandin made a bold prediction about the future of the livestock industry. Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University best known for her work designing humane livestock handling facilities and her autism advocacy, says that meat production may go the way of beer, referring to the growing craft beer industry.

Small Batch Beef?

While it is no secret that changing consumer tastes can transform markets, will the “craft beer model” take root as a method of beef production? Let’s analyze the numbers. Craft beer volume grew 5 percent in 2017 – a year where the overall beer market contracted 1 percent. The craft beer market in the U.S. represents a 12.7 percent share by volume and 23.4 percent market share by dollars in 2017 according to the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado. These numbers show a growing and sizable market for craft beer but what does the comparable specialty beef market look like? The collective sales value of all beef with any type of animal production claim including naturally raised, grass fed, organic, no hormones, no antibiotics and combinations of these claims totals just 4.5 percent in retail sales and just over 3 percent market share in volume during the second quarter of 2018.

“The overwhelming majority of consumers are selecting traditional beef products,” said Sara Place, Ph.D. and senior director of sustainable beef production research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Beef producers are producing a product that is being driven by consumer tastes for specific traits. Modern consumers want real food, they want realness in their food supply. They are looking for the story of how that beef got from pasture to plate.”


Telling the Beef Sustainability Story

“Here’s the big challenge to the “buy local” movement – over two-thirds of our domestic cattle production occurs in the Great Plains while almost 75 percent of our country’s population live on the coasts,” said Daniel Loy, Ph.D., professor of animal science at Iowa State University and director of the Iowa Beef Center. “You simply can’t buy local if the resources can’t support it responsibly. Cattle farms and ranches today are operating at a very high level of environmental efficiency. Verified programs that rely on education and certification like Beef Quality Assurance or metrics like those being developed by the US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef can provide consumers assurances.”

October 2017 marked the relaunch of the classic “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” campaign that asks consumers to rethink the ranch and understand that there is a shared commitment to engaging consumer concerns, including sustainability. Everything from grazing management plans to humane treatment to water quality is addressed as part of the sound approach to efficient and sustainable production. According to the 2017 Water Quality and Beef Sustainability report prepared by the Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University, 99.8 percent of all beef producers have implemented at least one water quality improvement practice. 73 percent of graziers provided water sources away from surface water as the top water protection practice.

“Water quality is top of mind for almost all producers,” said Place. “Responsible farmers and ranchers know a clean, reliable source of water is essential, not just for cattle health but for the health of the local ecosystem.”

Since 1921 beef producers have relied on Ritchie Industries, Inc., an Iowa company that invented automatic waterers, to provide clean, fresh water on demand in all weather conditions.

“Ritchie Industries has been a pioneer and innovator in automatic livestock waterers for almost 100 years and our mission is to provide fresh water for life,” said Tyler Yantis, sales manager at Ritchie Industries, Inc. “Environmental stewardship is a key component of our product designs. Our waterers can help protect surface water from contamination, reduce erosion in grasslands and maximize every precious drop of water by keeping it fresh and clean on demand. Installing a clean water source is one of the key steps to becoming a sustainable and profitable operation.”


In the End, Efficiency Wins Out

So, is Temple Grandin right, will there be more growth in niche markets with consumers demanding customized production processes? Time will tell but the projected share of retail sales by production claims remains relatively flat. Despite the media hype and attention-grabbing headlines, the market segment has only grown 1.5 percent by sales over the past six years. Producers need to be wary and consider the cost/benefit and production efficiencies in niche markets that can be quickly saturated with supply.


For more information please visit:

Iowa Beef Center –

Rethink the Ranch –

Sustainable Beef Production Research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association –

Ritchie waterers –