Better genetics puts tastier beef on plate

The quality of Canadian beef is rising, and that bodes well for consumers’ continued willingness to pay for it, says beef expert Larry Corah.

Corah, the vice-president of supply development for Certified Angus Beef, said grade information in Canada and the United States shows that more beef is grading prime and triple A.

“We’ve seen a little less of a trend in Canada, but the first two or three months in 2015, we’ve seen a little bit of an uptick in both the amount of prime as well as triple A beef produced in Canada,” he said.

“We’ve seen the same thing in the States. We’re now over 70 percent Choice and Prime.”

Major drought in Texas and other big cattle-producing states resulted in heavy culling of animals, which has improved average quality. That’s why the U.S. had a bigger quality upswing than Canada, but it isn’t the whole reason, he added.

“Genetics has really started to kick in, in both the United States as well as Canada, and genetics is going to have a great impact. It is today, and an even bigger impact in five to 10 years.”

Corah was referring to Angus genetics in particular. He said 40 million pounds of Certified Angus Beef were sold in Canada in 2014, but only 26.3 million lb. were produced in Canada, indicating an opportunity for Canadian producers.

He listed four key reasons for the recent improvements in beef quality:

  • High prices have changed the way feedlot cattle are managed. Prices have increased 129 percent for feeder calves but only 71 percent for fed cattle, which has prompted feedlots to feed cattle longer and increase carcass weight. Carcass weight has a direct correlation to quality, said Corah.
  • Genetics for marbling have also improved. Corah said there have been huge strides in this area, and carcass grades can improve even further as producers make use of the information.
  • More than half of all cattle registered in Canada are Angus, and 55 to 60 percent of all bulls turned out in the United States are Angus. “Certain breeds marble and certain breeds don’t marble,” he said.
  • The Holstein impact is more of a factor in the U.S. because of its larger dairy industry. Holsteins make up nearly 20 percent of U.S. cattle slaughter, which is up from 15 percent several years ago. The U.S. dairy herd hasn’t shrunk but the beef herd has, so Holsteins now make up a higher percentage of the mix, said Corah. Holstein cows bred to Angus bulls can increase overall quality.

Tenderness used to be the main selling point for beef but that has shifted, Corah said.

“If you look at consumers and what they desire, we have moved away from tenderness being the focus on beef products. It’s still very important … but they have generally moved away from tenderness to flavour, and that’s what’s really driving.”

It’s the main reason that South America is one of the fastest growing markets for North American beef.

Though Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay produce millions of cattle, the heavy Brahman influence prevents them from achieving high quality grades, Corah said.

South Americans eat a lot of beef, so if they can afford Prime and Premium Choice beef from North America, they will buy it for its superior flavour.

“We can compete globally because of producing that kind of product, so I think the marketplace is clearly starting to tell us exactly what this high quality product will do domestically and globally, and it presents a great opportunity,” he said.

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