angus cows

Beef’s paradigm shift should continue, Rishel says

by Maeley Herring

June 24, 2020

Alexander Graham Bell never imagined the smart phone most Americans carry today. Even those with a touchscreen didn’t dream of such wonders a generation ago, and attitudes still vary. From bag phones to flip phones that can text to the latest with an app for everything, each person choses their level.

Innovation presents the option to accept or turn down, said Bill Rishel, longtime Nebraska Angus producer, at the online 52nd Annual Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Symposium. He challenged listeners to see change as an opportunity for progress.

“I want to stimulate a new way of thinking about the future,” he began.

Appreciating the past

That should begin with looking back to recognize “paradigm shifts” when new ideas suddenly supplant accepted or traditional ways.

“The paradigm shifts over the past 50 years certainly improved our industry and got us to where we are today,” Rishel said by way of introducing seven that helped everyone from ranch to beef consumer.

  • Performance record systems. Significance often overlooked because of their widespread use today, Rishel said the data collection led to in-herd records, breed association databases and national research organizations.
  • Artificial insemination. Used since the 1950s by a few registered bull owners, this innovation didn’t show what it could do until the early 1970s. When its use was opened to all in the early 1970s, “we witnessed greater opportunity for genetic improvement and long-term sustainability.”
  • Boxed beef fabrication lowered delivery costs, ensured product safety and increased demand for beef.
  • Branded beef programs debuted in 1978 with live and carcass specifications to enhance consistency, Rishel said. “Standing behind the product was a pretty new concept to our industry and the consuming public. It even helped reverse the serious decline in beef demand.”
  • The Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 provided structure and requirements for the Beef Checkoff Program that works to benefit producers and consumers, he said.
  • Expected progeny differences (EPDs) allowed anyone to rank individual animals on their genetics, regardless of environmental differences, Rishel said. EPD methodology led to the use of ultrasound technology in gathering carcass data for sire evaluation.
  • Genomic-enhanced EPDs (GE EPDs) take in DNA studies and other sources to find economic merit in more cattle and in traits that are hard to measure. “The speed of development and adaptation of genomics has been revolutionary,” he said.
barn laptop data

The seven innovations offered progress in genetics, efficiency and profitability at each level. They also provide a “paradigm shift philosophy” for future management decisions.

“Perhaps we can apply some of that thinking to our business and industry as we charge forward into the next two decades,” Rishel said. “The central idea to these dynamic changes is the desire to improve genetics and improve our enterprises.”

Looking forward

Research proves the industry is continually improving beef production.

“I believe we are just scratching the surface,” Rishel said. “I have no doubt genomics are destined to play a much larger role,” such as selection for strong immune systems, feed efficiency and carcass merit.

Beef quality is a key focus, Rishel said, but that must expand to other consumer connections.

“Producers are making strides in sustainability,” he said. Cattle graze land unsuitable for crops and “upcycle” forage into that nutritious source of protein that is beef.

Document conservation efforts that link livestock, wildlife, water and forage management, Rishel suggested.

“We have a great story to tell,” he said. “Many of our consumers, even the ones who really love beef, want to know that we are doing the right things for the environment and sustainability of our natural resources.”

If we were to look back on the industry in 20 years, what would be our biggest accomplishment?

“I hope the greatest paradigm shift would be our ability to accept change,” Rishel said.

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