Restaurants, grocers and consumers who link up with local farmers and ranchers to buy beef know where it comes from and how it was raised. This is a real comfort when there is a health scare such as an E. coli meat contamination or Mad Cow incident – for they know the source and quality of their beef. Wylie Harris, a Saint Jo, Texas, rancher, made this point during his comments as a panelist at the July 26, 2004, Agricultural Publications Summit near Tampa, Fla.
Harris was on a panel discussing how the beef industry and the government handled the December 2003 discovery of a cow in Washington State with Mad Cow disease, known officially as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE. Harris, who raises cattle on his family’s ranch, told the nearly 100 farm editors attending the session that one way ranchers can bolster consumer confidence in beef is to sell direct to consumers.
Harris had already made the decision before the December BSE incident to begin direct marketing his ranch’s cattle. He has begun the transition from selling his ranch’s calves to others to feed out to growing them out on grass on his ranch’s pastures and selling the beef locally to consumers. He notes that selling locally allows him to add value to the beef he produces, putting more money in his pocket while providing consumers with a high-quality product – a product that they know the origin of and how it was raised and fed.
Another benefit of local marketing, noted Harris, is that it keeps money circulating in the local community, giving it an economic boost. In addition to ranching, Harris is a Ph.D. candidate in rangeland ecology and management at Texas A&M University. He is a Food and Society (FAS) Policy Fellow, a national fellowship program (www.foodandsocietyfellows.org) administered by the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute in partnership with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.