Not only is May beef month, but it is also a time when cattle producers are making important business decisions. Additional marketing opportunities can be provided by enrolling calves in a value-added program and now is a great time for producers to decide if those programs are right for their operation.

IMI Global, a division of Where Food Comes From, Inc., is a third-party verification source who is trusted with evaluating practices associated with livestock production. Enrolling in IMI Global’s value-added programs offers beef producers a larger buyer base who are often willing to pay a premium.

IMI Global offers three main value-added programs: Source and Age Verification, Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) and Verified Natural Beef. For each program, producers must meet a certain list of requirements prior to enrollment.

Source and Age Verification, IMI Global’s base program, became prominent following the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) case found in the United States, which caused American beef to lose access to the Japanese market in the early-2000s. It was only through a third-party verification system, which proved that cattle were under a certain amount of months in age that ended up rectifying that particular market devastation.

The program is as straight forward as it sounds. Via written calving records that can be reviewed by IMI Global auditors, calves are proven to be born during a certain time and therefore are a certain age. To go along with that, calves are verified to have been born and raised on the specific operation.

The next level of value-added program offered by IMI is NHTC. To comply with this program, calves can never come in contact with any form of added hormones during their time on the operation. That non-hormone requirement carries on to the feed yards and packers, as well.

“In order to market cattle to the European Union, they require verification by a third party that the calf never came in contact with hormones from birth to slaughter,” said Doug Stanton, Senior VP of sales and business development for Where Food Comes From-IMI Global.

If an operation meets the requirements for NHTC, it is further discussed if enrolling in Verified Natural Beef would be a good fit. IMI Global’s Natural value-added program has more of a premium in the domestic market. In addition to meeting all the requirements to be Source and Age Verified in addition to certified NHTC, calves enrolled in the Verified Natural Beef program must also prove they have never been exposed to antibiotics or fed any animal byproducts.

New this year to IMI Global’s lineup of value-added programs is BeefCARE which stands for “Community of Agriculturalists who Respect Earth.” This program has three main pillars: animal husbandry, people and community, and environmental stewardship. There are different standards producers must comply with for all three pillars. This program highlights that farmers and ranchers truly understand the symbiotic relationship between people, animals and the environment.

“Consumers want to know about the welfare, but they want to know more. We want that positive spin to come back and show consumers what ranchers are really doing,” Stanton added.

Enrollment in any of these programs requires producers to apply an RFID tag to their calves’ ear at some point prior to them leaving the ranch. Enrollment in all but the Source and Age Verified program also require an onsite audit by IMI Global.

Costs associated with enrolling calves include a $750, plus travel expenses, base fee for onsite audits. Depending on the number of cattle enrolled in the program, per head charges range from $3-$3.50 and that price includes the purchase of the RFID tag. Enrolling in the BeefCARE program is an additional $500 flat fee.

IMI Global works primarily in partnership with video sales companies, specifically Superior and Western Video. Although there is a cost associated with enrolling in these value-added programs, they do offer producers a return on their investment. Tracking online video sales from 2017-19 showed, on average, Source and Age Verified cattle received a $14 a head premium, NHTC calves received a $35 a head premium and Verified Natural calves sold with a $45 per head premium.

These averages were all based on 600-pound steers, so some variation could be expected on heifers or different weight classes. For the best return on a producer’s investment, Stanton says the greatest success is found in selling at least one load-lot or more.

If producers are interested in selling their cattle in a summer video sale and they wish to market their cattle as certified by a third-party verification source, they must prove they have been approved for the value-added program prior to the catalog cutoff.

“To be approved for a program requires an audit. For those interested in marketing in a July or August sale, they need to at least start thinking about it now so they can get the enrollment done and the audit done,” Stanton emphasized.

To get the ball rolling on enrollment, Stanton says producers need to visit www.imiglobal.com. The basic enrollment forms can be found there, as well as the necessary contact information and sources to complete the process.