Scientists from USDA and universities work together to set priorities, collaborate on beef research

Beef producers must continue to improve efficiency to stay in the cattle business, and beef research needs to support that.

May 8, 2024

4 Min Read
UNL Beef

Beef producers must continue to improve efficiency to stay in the cattle business, and beef research needs to support that.

That was the message researchers from University of Nebraska—Lincoln, Colorado State University and USDA’s Ag Research Service took away from a two-day meeting at UNL’s Eastern Nebraska Research, Extension and Education Center recently.

The goal of the meeting was to bring together researchers from different institutions to set priorities for future research and identify overlaps and gaps in existing research.

"The primary discussion is how do we optimize a beef production system on a landscape or ranch," said Dr. Mark Boggess, director of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, Nebraska. "How do we give that producer the best tools or the best opportunity to most optimally match their genetics, their forage base and their management systems?"

While that’s enough of a challenge, Boggess said, research also needs to consider potential future effects of climate change, extreme weather events, socioeconomic factors like animal husbandry practices, and other emerging issues, like carbon and nitrogen, greenhouse gas emissions and public perception.

"We need to be able to demonstrate to the producers and society that maybe we are a lot better with respect to carbon and methane than we think," Boggess said. "But we need to be able to understand those challenges. We need the research in place to do the methane work and to do the nitrogen cycling and the carbon work and to help producers understand their opportunities, help them understand how it all fits together with ecosystem services. So it’s complex and growing. That’s why this meeting is so important, to bring all those people together."

The meeting included a tour of the Klosterman Feedlot Innovation Center, which is still under construction but is expected to start receiving cattle this summer. The KFIC is a commercial-scale feedlot research facility located at ENREEC that has been funded largely by industry donations, evidence that the industry understands the need for research that can both help improve efficiency and support the environmental benefits of beef production, said Galen Erickson, professor of animal science at UNL. The KFIC will double the current cattle feeding capacity at ENREEC to 5,000.

The meeting also tied into UNL’s Beef Innovation hub, a group of stakeholders including beef producers, allied industry professionals and researchers and educators from across all beef-related disciplines at UNL. The Beef Innovation hub includes representatives from range management to ecology, ag economics to genetics, meat science to social sciences, Erickson said. The industry advisors provide real-world input about the problems facing the beef industry, help researchers set priorities and identify funding opportunities, and give feedback about the results, shaping continuing projects.

Having those producers and industry professionals involved in the priority process with UNL allows UNL researchers to bring that perspective and those concerns to larger groups like this one, Erickson said, where researchers can share what they have already learned and collaborate and prioritize to maximize future research efforts.

For instance, Justin Derner, lead scientist with USDA ARS in Fort Collins, said their research into environmental, management and socioeconomic systems has been strong, but they would like to improve the genetics component of their research. "Because of this meeting we have connections now to enhance that genetics capacity and provide that sort of information to folks working in genetics, but also provide the value-added aspect to producers working with us from the genetic side. I’m pretty darn excited coming out of this that those types of collaborations are now in place and I’m looking forward to the next four to five years."

Matt Spangler, UNL beef genetics specialist, said one of the most important aspects of this meeting, beyond the value of the research discussions, was getting to know people and understanding beyond the scientific questions. "There is a common interest in agriculture and helping address concerns that consumers have. It’s those one-on-one interactions, in my experience, that actually lead to long-term, sustainable collaborations," Spangler said. "We’ve got exciting times ahead. I would say, though, I think it’s going to be an impossibility to raise cattle in 2050, using science from 1950. And so the challenge is to make sure we address the needs of the beef industry and the consumer, and ensure beef cattle producers have the opportunity to deploy scientific discovery. That requires education of not only beef cattle producers, but also education of consumers, and consumers who are willing to be consumers of science as well."

Maria Tibbetts, UNL Beef Communications Specialist

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