Beef Cattle Short Course

Rick Rennhack, left, talks with and Bob Timmerman as they check-out a JCB skid steer and other equipment on display at Rudder Plaza during the 2018 Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course. 

More than 2,300 agriculture producers and ranchers from across the United States and beyond have descended upon College Station for the annual Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course, which began Sunday and concludes midday Wednesday.

Well over 1,000 attendees filled much of A&M’s Rudder Auditorium Monday afternoon for a general session on various aspects of the beef cattle industry. Monday evening, participants enjoyed the annual Texas Aggie Prime Rib Dinner

Monday afternoon’s general session featured a lively presentation on the relationship between climate change and beef cattle production, analysis of expected weather trends between now and winter 2020 and a glimpse into beef consumer trends at the grocery store from H-E-B’s director of meat procurement.

Short course coordinator Jason Cleere served as the emcee for both the afternoon sessions and the prime rib dinner. Cleere is an AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist and an associate professor at Texas A&M.

“We can’t ever lose sight of what we’re producing for,” Cleere said from the Rudder Auditorium stage. “We are all in the food business, and our market is consumers across the U.S. and around the world as well.” The short course at A&M dates to the early 1940s, according to event organizers.

Brian Bledsoe, chief meteorologist at KKTV in Colorado Springs, Colorado, shared longer-term weather trends with attendees. He said he was “cautiously optimistic” that most Texans would see precipitation totals at or above average amounts through the end of 2019.

Bledsoe said that for most places in Texas, heavy rains in June gave way to a drier July, which he did not see as particularly concerning.

“It’s July and August in Texas. It’s supposed to be hot and dry,” Bledsoe said. “Is this really out of the normal? No, it’s not.”

Bledsoe said that Atlantic Ocean conditions are unfavorable for the creation of tropical systems, and he said a storm that could potentially impact Texas would more likely come from within or near the Gulf of Mexico.

Bledsoe projected maps onto the auditorium’s screen that, using global climate trends and weather patterns, made prognostications about expected monthly precipitation through February. He anticipates above-average precipitation levels through December, with a gradual drying trend expected in early 2020.

“At this time, long-term drought doesn’t appear to be a significant concern,” Bledsoe said.

Matt Walters, director of meat procurement for H-E-B, said in his presentation that data indicates that consumers want to incorporate beef into their diets, and to do so as part of healthy meals. Walters shared insight into H-E-B’s approach to meat sales and how it works with producers to meet consumers’ needs. He said H-E-B, which has 402 stores in Texas and Mexico, strives to cater to the preferences of particular areas.

He also said that prime cuts of beef are experiencing a surge in popularity.

“As we’ve gotten into this summer, we’ve seen a lot more retailers and food service outlets come to the party,” Walters said of prime cuts. “The prime grade has held on a little bit, but that supply is being pressured by a lot more folks.”

Walters said that over the last 20 years, brisket has risen dramatically in popularity.

“Back when I started [in the late 1990s], we were selling one kind of brisket. Today we sell over 20,” he said.

Walters shared feedback trends H-E-B has received from users via social media and focus group information-gathering. He said consumers want information about the welfare of animals used for food, wanting to know how they are fed and treated, as well as about the role of antibiotics.

Frank Mitloehner, an animal science professor at the University of California-Davis, said in his presentation that, according to his research, “it is simply not true” that meat production and consumption are a bigger danger to the environment than are fossil fuels.

Mitloehner shared statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency indicating that agriculture is responsible for about 9% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — which scientists say trap heat and lead to a warming climate — with animal agriculture responsible for 3.9%. 

He said that as of 2017, 28% of greenhouse gas emissions — methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide among others — are a result of burning fossil fuels through myriad modes of transportation, with 28% due to electricity and 22% the responsibility of fossil fuel use in industry.

“The media is full of statements stating that livestock produces more greenhouse gases than transportation,” Mitloehner said.

The short course concludes midday Wednesday following a number of hands-on workshops and a presentation on agriculture laws affecting ranchers led by AgriLife legal specialist Tiffany Dowell Lashmet.

Most of the sessions take place on campus in the Memorial Student Center or in Rudder Tower. Wednesday’s demonstrations will be hosted by a number of department sites.

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