June 17, 2004

USDA Awards $45,000 Grant For Local NRCS Farm Project

Beef cattle, and the grass to feed them with - those are two things northeast Missouri has plenty of. Now a marketing grant from the United States Department of Agriculture will help northeast Missouri attempt to market these resources.

The Northeast Missouri Resource Conservation and Development Council was awarded a $45,370 USDA Rural Development Business Enterprise Grant during a special ceremony held in Memphis on June 11.

The funding will be used to complete a market study on grassland beef distribution and sales planning. Grassland Beef, a producer owned company that provides superior quality, grass-fed beef as part of its overall goal of improving family nutrition, rural communities and the environment, will be the beneficiary of the work.

The company, which is headed by Canton farmer Jon Wood and his family, is currently marketing grass-fed beef to consumers in all 50 states. The funding will help pay for a consultant to perform additional marketing work for the group to help enhance sales and ultimately generate an increased demand for the grass-fed livestock meats that can be produced in northeast Missouri.

We have been working with a consultant that has already completed a feasibility study and other work for our company, Wood told the gathering in Memphis. The consultant will meet with Tom [Deberry of NRCS in Memphis] in the next couple of weeks to begin working on this marketing grant.

The new project could not have come at a better time, Wood said. The company is expanding to begin marketing additional farm products beyond beef. Grass-fed lamb, chicken and bison are being sold by Grassland Beef as well as dairy products from grass-fed dairy cows.

Our vision is for beef cattle to be raised in their natural environment and finished grazing lush, green pasture forage so that our families and consumers can reap the benefits of consuming highly nutritious, health-enhancing beef, the company mission statement states.

This vision has expanded to include the other farm products that the group is marketing largely to the health food market.

Research conducted over the last decade has discovered a naturally occurring substance in beef, conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. In multiple research studies, CLA has been shown to both reduce the incidence of cancer and suppress the growth of existing cancers in laboratory animals.

Recent studies indicated that patients with higher levels of CLA in breast tissue had less tumor growth. Other studies have correlated CLA with decreasing body fat and increasing lean body mass. One study showed that humans receiving CLA had a significant decrease in body fat as compared to the placebo group. Yet other research has shown that CLA delays or prevents the onset of diabetes and reduces arteriosclerosis (coronary artery disease).

There are good fats, fats that contain essential nutrients for life and health. In the American diet, beef and milk fat are the best sources for CLA. But studies have also shown that the cattles diet has a significant impact on the amount of CLA in the meat and dairy products. Not surprisingly, when cattle eat their natural diet, foraging pasture grasses and legumes, CLA levels are 30-40% higher.

Wood said that roughly two thirds of the consumers purchasing their product have listed health as the reason for the purchase.

Of course there are other reasons including animal welfare, and the tenderness and quality of the meat.

The later spurred a recent boom for the company when a well known New York food critic gave the companys beef steaks a top review.

Combined with the issue of safety, which caused another spurt for the company during the recent Mad Cow disease scare at the end of last year, Grassland Beef is experiencing some growing pains.

We hit a supply crunch late last year when our orders grew at such a high rate, Wood said. But that is a good problem. If the demand is there for the product we will find more producers to grow the grass-fed animals.

That ultimately is the goal of the project. The USDA funding is targeted at growing the market to expand demand and allow more local producers to make more money from their livestock outfits.

Weve been talking about marketing this for a long time and now the funding has been approved, said Senator John Cauthorn. Lets hope this helps.

The senator pointed out the market is there to sell healthy farm products to urban residents. He added that the grant will be one of the steps needed to help communicate the availability of the locally grown products that will benefit all those involved with the transactions.

Representative Brian Munzlinger was also present for the grant awarding. He was recognized by Wood as the companys first customer.

When we first went online with Grassland Beef, Brian was actually the first customer to order some of our beef from the web site, Wood said. He put his money where his mouth is.

Currently 85-percent of the groups business comes via individual consumers like Munzlinger. Wood stated he hopes to grow that market to 10,000 customers within the next three years. The remainder of the business comes from restaurants and other commercial buyers such as grocery stores.

Wood pointed out to the members of the NRCS council that the plan being used by Grassland Beef could easily be incorporated to other value added ideas in the area. He told the members that the groups consultant has been working with a group of grain farmers in Knox County that is marketing specialty soybeans and blue corn.

Anytime we can add value to our agriculture products anywhere in our area it is a worthwhile project, Munzlinger said as he applauded USDA for the grant.

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