Writer: Jane Moorman, 505-249-0527, email@example.com
ALBUQUERQUE - Leaders in the New Mexico beef industry are asking their fellow cattlemen "What's your vision for the future?" during meetings held across the state. Outreach meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 24, in Ft. Sumner, Friday, Sept. 26, in Sky City, and Wednesday, Oct. 1 in Silver City.
"We are trying to get a sense of what is needed," said Steve Warshawer, a member of the New Mexico Beef Industry Strategic Planning Initiative task force. "We want to develop an industrywide, strategic approach for improving the opportunities of the New Mexico beef industry."
Before the task force could plan for the future, they needed information as to where the New Mexico beef industry stands compared to the national industry.
New Mexico State University's College of Agriculture and Home Economics' Agriculture Economics and Agricultural Business Department conducted a study, and Terry Crawford, department head, and Jerry Hawkes, assistant professor, are reporting the findings during the outreach meetings.
"We took a look to see were the beef industry is financially and economically in regard to the numbers of usable land, mother cows, yearlings - all of the industrial demographics of today," Hawkes said, prior to the Sept. 3 outreach meeting in Santa Fe.
The study investigated the feasibility of an in-state feed lot/packaging facility, a grass-fed program and a New Mexico-grown branding program.
The option with the most potential "seems to be a cooperative-branding program, which would market New Mexico beef based on characteristics such as being locally grown and fresh, as well as consumers' willingness to support local producers," Hawkes said
The branding program would require independent cattle growers to form an alliance. Under the program, yearlings would be sent to feed lots and on to processing while the producers maintain ownership. The meat would be packaged under the New Mexico-grown brand name and then returned to retailers in New Mexico and the Southwest.
"For the number of calves we have, this is the best bang for our buck," Hawkes said.
Currently, New Mexico produces 100,000 to 150,000 calves annually. The NMSU study showed that the feasibility of a slaughter facility was unlikely because of a lack of sufficient slaughter animals in the state, as well as the competition the facility would face from larger, more efficient facilities located in the Texas Panhandle region.
"A grass-fed program is feasible for a small-scale, niche marketing concept. But is not practical at this point to move the entire commercial industry to a grass-feed situation," Hawkes said. "We don't have the forage. We'd have to reduce our mother cows to sustain our rangeland in the manner we'd need to for future uses - continued uses."
Findings from a grass-fed study as a value chain in north central New Mexico and the San Luis Valley, found that this method would be feasible for small-scale, direct marketing producers who don't want to expand beyond 10 to 20 animals, Warshawer said. The study was funded by the Taos Community Foundation and the Town of Taos.
"They could participate as a supplier to existing value chains, such as Country Natural Beef," Warshawer said. Or, the producer would have to find a buyer serving the local/regional market to buy the whole carcass and work with a group of producers to develop it as a New Mexico value chain, he said.
After hearing the reports by Hawkes and Warshawer, participants at the outreach meetings will be asked to identify the positive activities in the industry; what is their desired future for the New Mexico beef industry in five years; and what are the biggest obstacles for the industry to move to the desired future.
Locations of the 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. meetings will be:
•Sept. 24: Ft. Sumner at the DeBaca County Extension office, 514 Avenue C.
•Sept. 26: Sky City at the Sky City Casino.
•Oct. 1: Silver City at the Grant County Extension office, 2610 North Silver Street.
Following the outreach meetings, a strategic planning summit will be held Nov. 18 and 19 in Albuquerque. For further information contact the New Mexico Cattle Growers at (505) 247-0584 or the New Mexico Beef Council at (505) 841-9407.
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