beef

Melodie Edwards

In 2015, Wyoming passed the Food Freedom Act, giving the state the most lenient local food regulations in the country. It allows Wyoming farmers to sell things other states can’t, like raw milk, eggs and poultry direct to consumers. But many Wyoming food producers say, there’s still one road block: beef. The issue is that federal regulations make it hard to market Wyoming branded beef outside the state where all the customers are.

Wyoming Beef Council

Three Japanese food editors visited Wyoming last week to learn more about how beef is raised and cooked in the U.S. The tour was part of a partnership between the Wyoming Beef Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation. 

Wyoming Beef Council director Ann Wittmann said the U.S. shipped 425 million pounds of beef to Japan alone in 2016. That brought in over $1 billion for U.S. beef producers. Wittmann said Japanese markets also prefer cuts that U.S. consumers don’t have a taste for.

Melodie Edwards / Wyoming Public Radio

The city of Cody is now home to Wyoming Legacy Meat, the first USDA-inspected full-service meat processing plant in the state in over 40 years. This will allow more ranchers to market their beef as “grass fed” and “natural” and sell it out of state.

Right now, there are several state-inspected slaughter plants and processors in Wyoming, but that meat can only be sold in-state to a limited market. That’s why most cattle are sold to feedlots, sweeping Wyoming’s beef into the nation’s bulk meat supply. 

Irina Zhorov / The Pulse

On a beef ranch called Ledenevo, in the Bryansk region of Russia, about 300 miles southwest of Moscow, everything is brand new. The farm opened just a year ago and the tractors, the administrative buildings, the gravel work roads, the fencing, somehow even the cows themselves, sparkled. On a sunny day this fall, a rodeo overshadowed the farm’s regular operations.

Yathin S Krishnappa, wikipedia.org

The Lander school district is serving up local beef to students from animals the students raised. 

Fremont County School District Food Director Denise Kinney grew up on a dairy farm and was a member of Future Farmers of America as a kid. With recent government interest in getting more locally-sourced foods into schools, she started thinking about what type of food that could be in Wyoming. This year, she partnered with the Lander FFA program.

The Wyoming Beef Council—the industry advocacy group for ranchers—says it has cut its budget and will rethink its marketing efforts.

Wyoming cattle numbers have been decreasing since 2001 because of drought, aging beef producers, shrinking grazing lands, and other factors. The Council’s smaller budget means that an administrative assistant position will be cut, and the council will only have one employee.

Roger Wollstadt

The Powder River Basin Resource Council's Bill Bensel says without a USDA meat plant in Wyoming local meats can’t get to state schools and stores. However, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture's Derek Grant says that’s not true.

“Our producers can take their livestock to those meat plants and then sell the products in the state of Wyoming to restaurants and school and individuals.”

Bensel says the problem is that there are too few slaughtering plants—only 12 state wide—to make it economically feasible for ranchers to process in-state.

The price of beef hit an all-time record this quarter at $5.55 a pound—a full 25 cents higher than last year at this time.  Ann Wittmann, Director of the Wyoming Beef Council, says it’s a case of supply and demand.  A nation-wide drought has reduced herd sizes to the lowest they’ve been in 60 years and that is driving up the price for both consumers and producers.

The Wyoming Beef Council is launching an online campaign in an effort to improve beef’s image with the millennial generation.  That’s anyone born between 1980 and the early 2000’s.  The campaign will feature recipes on social media sites popular with millennials.