Cattle Producer Partnership
Cattle Producers Convert Environmental Commitment to Price Premium
|A producer co-op in West Virginia explores environmentally sensitive ways to raise calves along the headwaters of the Potomac River and market those efforts to beef buyers. They are traditional farmers who recognized they need to do things a bit differently, said Neil Gillies of the nonprofit Cacapon Institute. Photo by Steve Ritz, USDA-NRCS.|
An effort to direct-market young beef raised on pasture in West Virginia to locals and Washington, D.C.-area residents has increased producer profits and helped prompt more environmentally sound finishing practices. With help from the Cacapon Institute and West Virginia University Extension, which obtained a SARE grant, eight cattle producers in the states eastern panhandle interested in cattle poolin and marketing formed a partnership, The Headwater Farms L.L.C., and began raising Petite Beef TM. Slaughtered at 750 pounds, the mostly grass-fed calves produce mild-tasting, unmarbled meat raised without hormones or antibiotics.
The new product appeals to customers partly because of the production methods Headwater Farms advertises on its order forms. Each grower raises the calves on pasture in managed systems that range from intensive grazing, where cattle are moved through fenced paddocks every few days to keep vegetation lush and manure distributed, to more passive systems, where cattle move across fields on a schedule that prevents overgrazing.
The systems eliminate the need for input-intensive feedlots and feature riparian-friendly techniques that limit cattle access to the Potomac River, which runs through 19 miles of the cooperating farms. Farmers traditionally go to the auction market with their cattle and thats the end of it, said Bob Cheves, who spearheaded the co-op. Eight families decided to work together and began to divvy up responsibilities and develop a customer base for their cattle.
Marketing strategies such as direct-mail appeals to targeted groups, holding tasting events and distributing a recipe book with orders have proved fruitful; the group has gained about 200 customers (40 of them repeat customers) willing to pay an average price of $5 a pound, about 25 percent higher than typical market prices.
People worry about the influence of agriculture on rivers and streams and the quality of our water this is a chance to make change happen with your dollars in a very direct way, said Neil Gillies, Cacapon executive director. In a customer questionnaire, 91 percent indicated that the quality and environmental benefits of the product made the higher price acceptable and planned to buy more. Go to www.headwaterfarms.com/ for more information.
[For more information about the SARE grant, go to http:/www.sare.org/projects and search for LNE00-139]