South Dakota Certified Beef shows promise, faces problems

US - The South Dakota Certified Beef Program, the only government-backed certification program in the nation, came into focus at the South Dakota Governor's Beef Industry Conference Monday in Pierre. The program is being touted as a way to capture market premiums, but at least one producer believes it may have even more value as a production management tool
calendar icon 13 February 2007
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South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel addressed the conference. He told Brownfield the program makes South Dakota the global leader in age and source verification.

"We're not only ahead of the other states, we're ahead of any country that I know of anywhere," Gabriel said.

But with only 131 of the state's beef producers fully participating, Gabriel concedes the program isn't as far along as he wants. "I'll be the first to admit we don't have as many producers licensed and cattle enrolled as we'd like to have," said Gabriel. "But until we get a processor here in-state that can process these cattle we're going to flounder a little bit."

South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds agrees with Gabriel's assessment. "I'm not really happy with where we're at today, because I think we can do a lot better on South Dakota Certified Beef," Rounds told reporters Monday. "We should easily be well over 400 producers right now" in terms of program participation.

And Rounds also agreed with Gabriel that the problem is in-state beef processing capacity. "We're short on processors within this state," Rounds explained. "We've got 12 small processors within the state today, and they're running at capacity right now, but what we need are some larger processors here so that we can do potloads of cattle at a time."

That’s were Dennis Hellwig comes in. Hellwig, who founded a sale barn in Aberdeen that his sons still run, is a partner in Northern Beef Packing, which is moving forward with a plan to build a $40 million dollar packing plant near the site of his original business.

"We're going to process about 1,500 cattle a day, one shift, and it's coming along real well," Hellwig told Brownfield. "I think it's kind of going to bring this whole Certified Beef together on finishing up the project."

Residents of a community near the site of the proposed packing plant have sued to block it, but Hellwig said he's moving forward anyway and points out he has all the necessary state, local and federal permits. He predicts the plant will begin processing cattle in the South Dakota Certified Beef program later this year.

Rounds was somewhat less confident. He told Brownfield it still isn't clear whether or not the legal challenges against the packing plant have the potential to derail its construction. He said the answer to that question should be known in the next week to 10 days.

But since 1999, long before the South Dakota Certified Beef Program came on-line, South Dakota cattleman Mike Levi of the Novotny Angus Ranch in Carter has been tagging and tracking his calves using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Levi told Brownfield he is now beginning to get a premium for his age and source verified calves. But he said the real value to him in tagging and tracking his cattle has been in improved performance.

"The ability to track those cattle and manage those cattle has paid us quite well," Levi said. "Just for instance, 205 day weights over the last 10 years have increased over 120 pounds, and you can't do that if you can't measure it, and you can't measure it if you can't monitor those cattle."

Source: Brownfield Network
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