The stakes are high when it comes to Wyoming beef.
Most Wyoming ranchers run “cow-calf operations,” which don’t require ranchers to do their own beef processing. Instead, Wyoming ranchers have historically sold live cattle for slaughter and processing.
But when that part of the action happens out of state, value is lost, experts say. And so in ongoing efforts to narrow the Wyoming Business Council’s broad 20-year vision into actionable items, the WBC has been aiming a spotlight on the Wyoming cattle industry for over a year.
“Our goal is to get that modern processing industry grown to a point that ranchers who want to remain cow-calf ranchers have the opportunity for higher profit margin on a product they are already purchasing,” said Brandon Marshall, business development assistant director for the WBC.
“That could come in a lot of ways, but in theory, by getting a premium for their product, they are able to select, they are able to raise the cattle in certain ways that are better than taking batches of cattle out of state,” Marshall said.
The WBC hopes to find opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship within the industry inside Wyoming, because Wyoming also loses the potential for a branded Wyoming beef product every time cattle are sold out of state, said Ron Gullberg, business development director for the Wyoming Business Council.
“We want to provide alternatives,” Gullberg said. “If people selling live cattle out of state want an opportunity to add value and have other opportunities for other fields of sale, want to work with a processing plant to provide Wyoming beef in Wyoming, or (if people) want to export to that international locale, we want them to have the option.”
Beef production makes up the largest sector of Wyoming agriculture, which generates $2 billion annually.
“A healthy and thriving beef industry is essential for healthy and thriving communities throughout the state,” said Ann Wittmann, executive director of the Wyoming Beef Council.
The WBC is in the process of completing a study to explore strategies for building USDA-inspected beef processing plants of all sizes throughout the state, and for marketing Wyoming beef locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. The study is focused on three areas: market opportunities for Wyoming beef in Wyoming, both domestically and internationally; workforce issues; and offal, or what to do with the byproducts of the industry, Gullberg said. The results will be released to the public when complete, likely within the next several months.
“It’s an industry-focused study, so the data collected in the report should provide processing plants and different enterprising people direction,” Gullberg said. “We’re trying to work with agribusiness and other core industries to add value to what had been historically commodity-driven businesses.”
Following the establishment of a Wyoming-Asia Pacific Trade Office in Taiwan last year, representatives of the Wyoming Business Council and Wyoming producers traveled to Taipei, a city of over 2 million people, to develop a small supply chain of Wyoming beef in Taiwan. After a successful test run, and subsequent orders, the industry is working in a public-private partnership to establish best practices in the export market.
This means that Wyoming beef has made its way, on a limited scale, to restaurants in Taipei, Taiwan.
“Last September, we did make a small entry into the export market, when we were looking to get a sample over to Taiwan,” Gullberg said. “We were referred to a producer in Powell called Murraymere Farms, and we were able to work with them to get a sample to a hotel-restaurant that tested the sample of beef and loved it.
“It coincided a month later in October to a trade mission in Taiwan, where we were able to provide beef from Murraymere Farms for the reception,” Gullberg said.
“We were thinking that this was amazing … that we would work out the trials and tribulations of the processing, shipping and importing … but immediately, we were scrambling to meet another order to them in a public-private effort. There was definitely demand,” Gullberg said. “Where we are today is that there is an ownership of two hotels in Taiwan … and currently there is Wyoming beef at these two hotel restaurants.”
The state funded the Wyoming-Asia-Pacific Trade Office in Taiwan because it coincided with a target market already present, even without any marketing efforts made by the state.
“There is a buzz in Taipei for Wyoming beef, in a city of millions of people without dedicating any money to marketing for it,” Gullberg said. “There is demand, but we are still working public and private together to learn best practices to eventually be able to grow this market so this can go fully privatized.”
According to Linda Stratton, manager of Consumer Health Services with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, there are five federally inspected meat plants in Wyoming. Two of them do slaughter and processing, while the other three process meat products only. There are 12 state-inspected meat plants in Wyoming, seven of which do slaughter and processing. The other four process meat products only. There are 27 custom exempt meat plants that slaughter and process meat in the state, and some also receive federal- or state-inspected product and process, and sell retail.
Some of the current state plants have expanded due to the increase in demand for the services, Stratton said. There are building plans being reviewed by Consumer Health Services for future meat plants in Wyoming, and another federal meat plant is being built that will slaughter and process in the near future. Some of the custom exempt plants are considering coming under state inspection.
“They need to evaluate if there is a need in the area for state inspection, or remain under custom exempt,” Stratton said.
State meat plants can do some days of state inspection, and other days of custom exempt. There are different inspection and operational requirements for a meat plant to be under state inspection to sell the meat within the state of Wyoming, as well as nationally and internationally.
Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, said his organization is also advocating for additional international opportunities for Wyoming lamb.
“WDA is collaborating with the Business Council to identify opportunities for beef and lamb. WDA provides technical assistance to the Business Council as they provide the marketing services for producers,” he said. “We, on the other hand, concentrate on helping producers navigate meat inspection requirements and advocate to reduce barriers in livestock production such as predators, federal grazing and environmental regulations.”