Romance vs. Reality Part 1: Hard Lessons Learned in a Grass-fed Beef Marketing Cooperative

Editor’s Note: This two-articles series  comes to us from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and was written by Annie Wilson, member and former business manager of Tallgrass Prairie Producers Co-op. The Co-op operated from 1995 to 2000, raising and marketing grass-fed beef from ten Kansas ranches. It ceased active operation in 2000. She offers the following as their lessons learned in the hopes that others will benefit. The purpose of this article is not to discourage other producers from niche marketing, but to share our experiences in our five years of marketing grass-fed beef. The variables in any business effort are so endless that we cannot conclusively pronounce what will or won’t work for others. Times change and undoubtedly some of the production and marketing realities we faced are different now. A new and different formula may work today. We only know what happened to us, and will try to communicate our perspective here. First we will give a general overview of our history, followed by what we saw as the critical elements of success, some of which we unfortunately lacked. Business history Tallgrass Beef is a product produced by ten ranch families in a marketing cooperative called Tallgrass Prairie Producers Co-op. Our original mission was “to produce and market meat products from livestock raised in a

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One thought on “Romance vs. Reality Part 1: Hard Lessons Learned in a Grass-fed Beef Marketing Cooperative

  1. Thank you for giving us all the benefit of your hard-earned experience. I’ve long said that ‘all education is expensive, no matter where you get it’.

    I certainly believe in grass-fed beef. But here in Montana it must be harvested within two short months – late July through early September – while animals are actively growing. That means we can only supply fresh, tender meat for one-sixth of the year.

    And I certainly believe in locally grown, harvested, and processed food. But the economies of scope and scale are against it.
    The big packers are seen as the enemy by some, but they can sell “everything but the moo” – making their PROFIT on by-products that are a disposal COST to local processors.

    According to one source – http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/how-america-spends-money-100-years-in-the-life-of-the-family-budget/255475/ – the average American family now spends only 13% of its budget on food – half of what they spend on entertainment.
    We in agriculture don’t get much credit for the fact that we produce food much more efficiently than we did a hundred years ago, and our packing industry doesn’t get credit for the fact that they process and market our beef much more efficiently than they did a hundred years ago.

    I’m a cow/calf producer. I ate grass-fat, dry, two-year-old heifers for most of my life. But now I buy meat in the store.

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