Breeding from the bottom up
Even the mightiest of industries can rely on small-scale producers for their raw materials. The burgeoning beef industry in the United States, worth US$40 billion dollars a year, depends heavily on small family farms to breed the stock to supply the beef cattle chain. Whilst the profits to be made in the intensive fattening or finishing of beef cattle in feedlots may be very good, the margins made by the farmers who supply one of the world's largest beef industries are often far from handsome. But a recent development may help the smaller scale producers to make more money from their businesses.
Small-scale producers averse to taking risks
The risks - and the potential benefits - of change can now be assessed without putting anything at stake. A computer programme - Decision Evaluator for Cattle Industry (DECI) - has been developed by MARC that enables farmers to simulate adjusting the breed or feed or system they use and to see the potential profits to be made.
Seated in front of his office computer at MARC, Tom Jenkins taps away at the keyboard. "DECI asks the user to describe their production environment, their ranch and what type of forage and supplementary feed are available." The farmer also has to enter the type of animal kept and whether they are pure or cross-bred. Are farmers daunted by using a computer in this way? "That's what's nice about today's world. We're moving into the age of electronic innovation. Most farms have access to a computer these days. And we keep it easy to use. It's all punch and click. We try to minimise the number of key strokes for the user."
Assessing the options
Sue Jarnet, in north-eastern Colorado, runs a cow-calf business on native grasses on the family ranch and sells on about 30 young stock a year. Would using a computer programme help her? "I guess it's a good chance to try out different options. For sure I do not want to take risks with my business unless I can be sure it will pay off and not push my land or my pocket too hard."