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Superior Farms secures USDA approval for camera grading technology

Superior Farms to provide electronic grading to benefit lamb producers and consumers.

Superior Farms, North America’s largest lamb processor, announced that it has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin grading carcasses with the VSS2000 System camera (Electronic Grading), the first digital camera to be approved for use in the U.S. lamb industry.

The new digital camera was installed at its California processing plant in October 2015, and Superior Farms has worked hand in hand with USDA to secure approval since then, according to the announcement.

Rick Stott, president and chief executive officer of Superior Farms, said, “Our team worked closely with USDA for two years validating the camera’s algorithms to assure accurate full carcass measurements of both yield and quality grades. Combining electronic grading with our Producer Portal will allow unprecedented access to carcass information by our producer partners that will allow every segment of our industry to continue to produce a better product.”

This electronic grading system will provide Superior Farms' producers with detailed meat information about their lambs. “We will now be able to share this detailed information with producers through our Producer Portal. This information includes the USDA Yield Grade and Quality Grade, as well as the Ovine Cutability Calculation (OCC), the primal weights (leg, loin, shoulder, rack, breast, trotters and neck) and two digital images of each lamb carcass processed,” said Lesa Eidman, director of producer resources and sustainability for Superior Farms.

“This technology will provide our producers with an unprecedented amount of information about the meat and carcass characteristics of their lambs. Ultimately, producers will be able to make genetic and production changes to provide U.S. lamb customers with the highest-quality, most consistent product we can deliver,” Eidman added.

The next steps are, first, to pair this information with electronic identification tags so producers can see the data on an individual lamb basis and, second, to implement the technology in Superior Farms’ Denver, Colo., facility.

“Now that we have received approval from USDA for the camera grading, we can begin implementing the technology in our Denver facility,” Stott noted. “We look forward to working with the USDA to expedite the approval process so that both of our facilities have this state-of-the-art technology.” The USDA grader will remain on site to verify that the technology remains accurate and in line with the USDA grading standards.

The American Lamb Board has been a vital participant in bringing this development to fruition. Most important, the board funded electronic grading research conducted by The Center for Meat Safety & Quality within the department of animal sciences at Colorado State University.

In its study, “Industry Implications & Economics of Implementation of Lamb Instrument Grading,” Colorado State found overwhelming evidence of the value of the camera technology and concluded that “unprecedented information about lamb carcass composition and value will be collected and available. True production management decisions can be made by U.S. sheep producers with conveyance of product attributes of harvested lambs.”

Founded in 1964 with headquarters in Sacramento, Cal., employee-owned Superior Farms is North America’s largest processor and marketer of lamb.

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