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BQA becoming more than just ‘the right thing to do’

Libby Bigler for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 April 2019
Magnum Feedyard, process cattle

A 2011 survey of U.S. beef cattle producers done in conjunction with the National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) found 87 percent of respondents who operated their ranches consistent with Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) standards did so because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Although most cattle producers agree that BQA is “right” for cattle, consumers and for their ranch finances, many are still looking for more concrete proof of the real value of a BQA certification.

Right for the animal

If you are familiar with the BQA program, you won’t argue that BQA standards are “right” for cattle in terms of care, health and well-being. The BQA program is intended to improve carcass quality and eliminate defects by helping producers evaluate their management decisions and continuously make improvements. Data collected from each of the 10 NBQAs over the past 28 years has demonstrated the beef industry’s commitment to improvement.

Today’s BQA guidelines have been adapted from NBQA findings, and their implementation has resulted in reduced instances of defects like injection abscesses, bruising, dark cutters, etc.

“There has been no better beef industry program than the National Beef Quality Audit for identifying and ultimately changing specific beef quality and safety issues,” said Chase DeCoite, director of BQA for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “The BQA advisory group has done a great job of using NBQA data to shape the BQA program, and that has really resulted in improved producer awareness and sparked positive changes in beef cattle management across the board.”

In 2016, NBQA researchers evaluated mobility and transportation for the first time. With promising initial results in these categories, it is apparent cattle producers are focusing on stockmanship and have taken culling management seriously. It’s results like these that prove the BQA program’s educational platform is effectively translated to cattle production and is improving cattle well-being.

Right for the consumer

The BQA emphasis on doing things “right” is one way beef producers address consumer concerns, foster transparency and reinforce trust. In response to consumers’ interest and need to know how their food was produced, many U.S. beef packers have begun to request BQA verification.

Over the past 18 months, Cargill, Tyson and JBS, to name a few, have all begun to take steps toward verifying that cattle processed through their plants are being raised under BQA standards. Knowing their customers (restaurants, retailers, etc.) are in the business of satisfying consumer preferences, these companies now request that their feedlot suppliers and cattle haulers prove their BQA certification.

Hannah Todd, a cow-calf producer from Crawford, Colorado, has been on board with BQA for years. She and her family attend BQA certification events regularly to keep their certification active. Hannah agrees that BQA is a great tool to improve consumer confidence, and praises the program for its producer-driven structure.

“We are trying to be proactive and do things right before we are forced to have to do it a specific way,” Todd said. “Having cattle producers take initiative to get certified shows the industry is striving for the best, and we want consumers to be confident in the product they are purchasing.”

BQA’s overarching mission is to do just that – build and improve consumer confidence in beef. The program is an excellent tool for informing and assuring consumers the beef they provide their families is raised with integrity and that ranchers are doing what’s “right” for cattle. When consumers are more willing to buy, serve and eat beef, BQA’s ultimate goal is achieved.

Right for your finances

BQA standards deliver smart decision-making tools that help improve production efficiency, which translates to financial health for cattle producers. But not everyone is satisfied with this anecdotal evidence, and many find it difficult to commit to BQA certification without clear-cut economic figures to prove its value to their bottom line.

Whether BQA garners a premium in the marketplace has been top-of-mind for years. In March 2018, CattleFax published data from its annual cow-calf producer questionnaire that addressed this issue. The report indicated operations that were BQA-certified received $42 per head more than those who were not, and that weaning weights for BQA-certified operations were heavier. In an effort to confirm these self-reported figures, researchers from Colorado State University’s Animal Sciences department have decided to dig into sales data.

“Calf and feeder cattle video auction companies have been helping their customers promote their own BQA certification status for many years,” said Jason Ahola, Ph.D., professor of beef management systems at CSU. “But it was unclear if this information was actually adding any value to the cattle being sold.”

Ahola is leading a small research project to identify whether feeder cattle sold on video auction earn a premium for being managed under BQA standards. Sales data from both Superior Livestock Auction and Western Video Market is currently being analyzed in hopes of identifying whether having “BQA” listed in lot descriptions may earn a premium. Ahola is hopeful this research will help confirm the economic value of earning a BQA certification but also thinks it will support the overall goal of growing the number of cattle entering the marketplace that have been managed under BQA standards.

“We feel the industry will continue to reward producers for being BQA-certified and following BQA guidelines, and assume this will result in premiums for cattle from BQA-certified producers in the future,” he said.

The Todd family sells their calves on video auction and are cautiously optimistic about CSU’s research. Todd believes in the BQA program beyond its potential for increased profits. She said the culture surrounding BQA is something more people should embrace.

“Whether we receive a real premium or not, BQA is a program created by producers that is just the right thing to do. I personally think the entire beef industry would benefit if everyone would come on board with BQA.”

As BQA continues to become more prominent throughout the beef supply chain, Hannah’s idea that more cattle producers in all segments of the industry should earn their BQA certification may be closer to fruition than we think. It’s certainly “the right thing to do,” on a number of levels but, with real figures supporting a premium in the marketplace, earning a BQA certification has never been more attractive.  end mark

PHOTO: Employees at Magnum Feedyard, Wiggins, Colorado, process cattle alongside their “BQA Certified” sign, which serves as a regular reminder to abide by BQA guidelines. Photo by Libby Bigler.

Libby Bigler
  • Libby Bigler

  • Colorado BQA Coordinator
  • Colorado State University
  • Email Libby Bigler