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GENTRY -- It takes a lot of land to raise a cow, and a lot of cash to boot.

Ranchers nationwide are having to get creative to compete in a market where meat packers are gaining influence and input prices such as feed, land and water are eating into profits.

Some cattlemen are turning to local programs that add value to their herds to help with the price competition at the stockyards. Others are forging their own path with help from the Internet and social media platforms that help get the word out about the quality of their beef.

An effort established last year so state ranchers can get the most out of their herds is a GoGreen program developed by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Once ranchers develop a cattle management plan that meets state extension service requirements, they receive green tags that can be placed on their cows.

According to a program pamphlet, the green tag lets buyers and sellers know the cows are less susceptible to illnesses and will cost them less in the long run. Enrollment fees are $10 per ranch for three years, and $2 per calf.

The program was designed to counter a misconception that cattle from the southeast region are not as valued as those from the west, said Johnny Gunsaulis, a Benton County extension agent.

"People seem to have a lower opinion ... compared to the western side," he said.

By preconditioning, a value-added practice where cow-calf producers work to build the health of a weaned calf prior to sale, ranchers are often rewarded for their labors, regardless of geography.

A market survey of eight Arkansas sale barn locations from the beginning of the year to April 5 shows that value-added cattle on average were valued higher at $794 per cow, compared to regular cattle, $760.

There are 150 Arkansas producers enrolled in the GoGreen program, with 6,500 tags distributed, Shane Gadberry, a state beef scientist and field agent said in an email.

Another route ranchers are seeking involves equal parts production and marketing.

After applying her marketing background to her father's cattle operation 20 years ago, Rachel Cutrer helped develop a simple website, which marketed their beef to customers beyond what her family thought possible.

Since developing an online presence, Cutrer, whose V8 Ranch in Texas runs a Brahman cattle operation, said the average sale price per head increased from $3,100 in 2008 to $8,540 in 2018.

At a conference Saturday near Gentry, Cutrer encouraged dozens of state ranchers in attendance to apply different marketing techniques so they could make more revenue from their herds. Cutrer recommended ranchers use social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to build their beef brand, have a few target customers in mind when making business decisions and tell a story with their brand that connects with people.

"When you think you've reached the top, remember, you haven't," she said.

Cutrer urged beginners to find a niche and get good at one thing. Arkansas producers are finding that there's a market for their beef, hogs or chickens with chefs seeking local, pasture-raised products.

Niche markets help ranchers deal with lower prices for cattle that are the result of large food companies that have spread their operational scope so wide, to include most, if not all, production areas. That yields cost savings and cheaper products for customers.

It also means less competition for cattle ranchers, who virtually "have no leverage to negotiate with the packers," Corbitt Wall, a beef producer, said during Saturday's conference.

For example, the two largest global beef companies in the U.S. cattle market are based out of Brazil: JBS and Marfrig. With Marfrig's latest acquisition of National Beef, nearly 40 percent of all beef produced by America's farmers and ranchers would be under control of Brazilian-owned firms, raising antitrust concerns, according to R-Calf USA, a Montana-based advocacy firm for the rights of independent ranchers.

When meatpackers took control of the supply chains in the hog and poultry industries, critics such as R-Calf argued it eliminated opportunities for hundreds of thousands of independent farmers and ranchers.

Business on 04/16/2019

Print Headline: Marketing programs help cattle ranchers tout quality of herds

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