As one of the highest beef cattle producing states in the U.S., Missouri boasts around 2 million head — a number of which Mark Harmon of Joplin Stockyards sees at his facility.
“There are 1.2 million head of cows in my trade area alone,” he says. “We have receiving stations in two states, Missouri and Arkansas.”
Working as a representative and editor of the monthly Joplin Stockyards publication, Harmon has his finger on the pulse of cattle movement in the Midwest.
“As fuel has gotten higher, we are seeing more cattle finished where the feed is grown, rather than trucking the feed to the cattle to be finished,” he says. “Calves that weigh 700 pounds-plus are heading straight into the feedyards in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska and Iowa.”
Harmon says that while the Joplin Stockyards serves around 11,000 customers on a yearly basis, there are typically 25-30 buyers who are buying the bulk of the calves that run through the auction
“We have guys coming from corporate feedyards needing 2,500 head a day as well as backgrounders in the mix, so when we have a big sale — 8 to 10,000 cattle or more — we see those guys dominate the buying.”
The industry is a multifaceted business with sectors in local, state, national and global economies, and the Missouri Beef Industry Council works to support it all, in the state’s borders and beyond.
“As we look at our mission and vision in 2020, we are focused on driving beef demand,” says MBIC Executive Director Mark Russell. “We accomplish this by educating consumers about beef’s nutrition and opportunities to include beef in a healthy and sustainable diet — mainly through the education of influencers who directly connect with consumers.”
Russell says influencers — chefs, dieticians, fitness professionals, doctors, nurses and others with consumer touch-points — are an effective avenue to communicate with consumers about the beef industry.
According to the MBIC, most beef and other foods in Missouri are still purchased at grocery stores and restaurants, but consumers are more engaged and interested in the story behind the food they eat than ever before.
“Reaching consumers about our product and our industry is different than it was 10-20 years ago,” Russell says. “The beef checkoff efforts have become adaptive to reaching geo-targeted consumers and generational populations. Digital advertising and social media are some of the best tools we utilize to help millennials and others understand the beef industry.”
While reaching millennials is important, it’s also important to reach the even younger generation. To reach a younger consumer, the Mo Beef Mo Kids Mo Fit (MOBKF) program, coordinated by MBIC, brings together Missouri cattle producers, local meat processors and school districts to increase the amount of beef on the school lunch tray.
Reaching 20,000 students in 2019, the program is still young in the state, a fact MOBKF program director Luella Gregory says is encouraging in terms of growth opportunity.
“There’s no shortage of interest and enthusiasm from Missouri school districts or Missouri beef producers. There also isn’t a shortage of cattle to fulfill demand,” she says.
The program currently serves 34 schools, providing hands-on education components, in addition to increasing the beef on the school lunch tray. Gregory hopes to grow to 100 schools by the 2020-21 school year.