Nalivka: Livestock Free Meat and Driverless Trucks

COMMENTARY - I have often said that the beef industry would better serve customers if they marketed smaller steaks in line with consumer preferences. I was going to expand on that thought in this article since there has been no shortage of discussion when I have introduced the idea to beef industry groups over the last several years.

So, while I was all ready to present my thoughts on what many consider to be a controversial topic in an industry where economics is focused on yield - whether it’s weaning weight or carcass weight, lo and behold, two articles in the Wall Street Journal last week made my concern over steak size look pretty out of touch.  Those smaller steaks can’t hold a candle to driverless semi-trucks and producing “clean meat” in a laboratory without livestock.  And to think my father-in-law once thought using an ATV on the ranch instead of a horse was heresy!

I think the bigger story is how technology is changing the red meat industry.  It’s changing all of agriculture and food production, and our lives for that matter.  We think we have a handle on the changes that are driving the industry – until technology once again moves the needle a little further and the last development is old news. It is always easy to say “that will never happen.”  But the truth is that technology is changing every facet of our lives at a rapid pace. Agriculture has already and will continue to be impacted and benefit from technology.

Producing ground beef in a commercial application using “clean meat” technology is already occurring.  Producing steaks with the texture and taste that give the same enjoyment that we get from eating a steak from a 1,400 lb. Choice steer, produced from a cow herd with great genetics and your management, presents a much greater challenge.  That is probably quite a way down the road.  But, “never say never.”     

In 1976, we sat in a cow camp in Montana on the Padlock Ranch and debated how long it would be until cowboys would no longer be needed on the ranch. Cows and truck drivers didn’t even enter the conversation, at least in that context.  I guess 40 years later the debate is how long it will be until cows and truck drivers are no longer needed!