February is typically a month geared toward those who love kisses, chocolate and Valentine wishes. It’s also a month for those who love T-bones, prime ribs and sirloins.
Although the official National Beef Month isn’t until May, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association began promoting February as “I Heart Beef” month in 2010 through the Beef Checkoff program. Not coincidently, February is also American Heart Month.
So while sweethearts are romancing one another with a nice steak dinner they can also be assured that the leaner cuts of beef, which include tri-tip, sirloin, tenderloin and more than 26 other cuts that meet government guidelines for “lean,” can be part of their heart-healthy diet.
According to the Beef Checkoff program, more than half of Americans surveyed believe serving beef steak to someone says, “I love you” better than fish, chicken or pork — partly, they note, because beef steak delivers the most “sizzle and passion.”
Romance aside, Reinaldo Cooke, assistant professor-beef specialist for Oregon State University stationed at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, says that in spite of, or perhaps because of, its higher marbling, which translates to more fat, Americans are most partial to the taste of beef rib steak.
Raising the steaks
Like most areas, Harney County, Ore., producers have been enjoying the current nationwide record-high cattle sale prices due to limited cattle numbers and the continued demand for beef.
Cooke says some producers in Harney County have changed their operations or added more expenses to production to capitalize on even higher priced “natural” — hormone and antibiotic free — branded products.
“Natural/grass operations are spread all over the country,” says Cooke. “As demand for this type of product increases, more and more producers will be attracted to the idea.”
He says he doubts, however, that the U.S. and the world beef industry will be largely impacted by these trends as the increased costs associated with raising natural beef are passed on to consumers.
“It is mainly a consumer-driven concept,” he says. “The majority of beef will still be produced with the technologies available to increase production efficiency, but there are opportunities for all types of beef production systems.”
Chewing the fat
David Bohnert, director and associate professor at EOARC, says research shows there are some minor differences in finished grass fed and grain fed beef. Grass fed is typically leaner in terms of total fat and has greater proportions of “good” fats such as CLA — conjugated linoleic acids — and Omega-3 fatty acids when compared on a total fat basis with grain-finished beef.
However, Bohnert says, even though grain finished beef may have more total fats, the overall intake of “good” fats by consumers is similar, irrespective of what the cattle were fed.
Bohnert says grass fed and finished beef is also higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E.
Consumers opting for grass-finished beef, however, may be giving up some of the sought-after taste found in higher marbled grain-finished beef.
“Grass fed/finished beef has a distinct grass flavor, fat color and unique cooking qualities that should be considered in preparation of meals,” Bohnert says.
He says research, though, has documented that lean beef, regardless of the feeding strategy, can be used interchangeably with fish or skinless chicken to reduce serum cholesterol in people with high cholesterol, making it a good choice for a heart-healthy diet.
To further differentiate the types of beef, the meat is quality graded as Prime (abundant marbling), Choice (high quality, but has less marbling than Prime) or Select (uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades).
Bohnert says, “A majority of U.S. consumers have a preference for Choice beef that has adequate fat content (marbling) to provide the visual appeal, flavor, tenderness and good eating experience that they have come to expect with grain finished beef here in the U.S.”
Even so, he says, the demand for natural/grass finished/organic beef is steady to increasing. Currently about 3 percent of the nation’s cattle producers are raising grass-finished beef.
“I anticipate that potential consumer demand will continue to rise,” he says. “However, the cost effectiveness of these niche markets, as well as the continued consumer demand, is dependent on the consumers’ willingness to keep paying beef producers the necessary premium required to offset the greater costs associated with natural/grass finished/organic beef production.”
The bottom line, he says, is “beef is a healthy, wholesome product that is an excellent source of protein and minerals - no matter how the cattle were fed.”
About the Beef Checkoff
The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The Checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national Checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.
America’s favorite lean cuts
Beef Eye Round roast and steak, Beef Top Round roast, Beef Top Round steak, Beef Bottom Round roast, Beef Top Sirloin steak, Beef Chuck Shoulder steak, Beef Round Tip roast and steak, Beef Round steak/Cubed steak, Beef Shank Cross Cuts, Beef Bottom Round (Western Griller) steak, Beef Top Loin (Strip) steak, Beef Flank steak, Beef Bottom Round steak, Beef Tenderloin roast and steak, Beef Brisket, Flat Half Beef, Tri-Tip roast and steak, Beef T-Bone steak, Beef Boneless Top Blade steak and 93% Lean Ground Beef patty.
— Beef Checkoff
A beefy business in Oregon
Agriculture and related economic activity accounts for over 12 percent of Oregon’s economy. The beef industry is one of the state’s top three commodities.
In four eastern Oregon counties, the percentage of employment from the agriculture sector breaks down as follows: 11 percent of the total population are employed in agriculture in Baker County, 17 percent in Grant County, 27 percent in Harney County and 8 percent in Union County.
Harney County has the highest numbers of cattle with 161,000 total, which includes 71,500 beef cows. It is followed by Baker County with 123,700 including 45,500 beef cows; Grant County has 56,400 total with 34,000 beef cows and Union County has a total of 51,800 with 14,000 in beef cows.
Cory Parsons, an OSU Extension regional administrator in eastern Oregon, says, the future of the beef industry looks strong with a continued high demand for lean protein and beef.
“Livestock producers should continue to have a positive marketing future, as long as they can manage their input costs and margins,” he says.