SUNY Cobleskill and Cornell University are known for the part they play in educating those willing to learn. This is why Betsy Jensen, Meat Laboratory manager at SUNY Cobleskill and MacKenzie Waro of the Cornell Cooperative Extension program Harvest New York, joined forces and put on their first Beef Cutting Workshop recently.
MacKenzie began with a presentation on Beef Marketing, explaining the importance of branding, labeling, packaging and marketing. Waro stated that,“Branding takes time and needs to capture the essence of your farm,” meaning that consumers should be able to look at your label or logo and know what your farm does. She also stressed that the packaged product needs to be clean, clear and visible. Most consumers don’t want to see blood in the package and want a crisp view of the product.
Marketing is also key, whether it is in print, online, or in person. Proper marketing can make or break any operation. Print marketing plays a key role in getting your name out there and once people become more familiar with a farm, they are more likely to do business there.
However, having people know your name isn’t the end of it. Social media is becoming a popular way to market farms and if you do choose to go this route, you need to make sure you update regularly, weekly, because when a potential customer looks you up they hope to see more happening with your farm than just a blurb from 2012 when your farm bought a new tractor. Waro suggested telling stories about your farm and allowing potential consumers a window into life on the farm.
The last form of marketing that MacKenzie touched on was face-to-face marketing, in which she suggests eye contact and a hearty, firm handshake and again, to share stories of the day-to-day life on the farm, something that brings potential consumers in and gives them a connection to your farm and therefore your product.
As MacKenzie Waro wrapped up, she reminded the class that we need to, “work together as a beef industry, support each other and work together.” If everybody in the industry promotes beef and not just their own particular farm or particular breed, then everybody will do better as a whole.
Next Betsy Jensen explained about meat safety and the different beef cuts, explaining that some beef cuts are often overlooked and underutilized.
Jensen gave many suggestions to increase your total profit on every cow. One such method is keeping the hanger steak, hangs down between the tenderloin and the rib, and is often ruined when the animal is split in half before aging. Another method is to keep the primal, ribeye and top round caps intact for steaks instead of grinding. A smaller steak will bring in more money than just grinding it up, especially if the butcher charges a grinding fee.
Finding a use for the hide and bones and any other discarded items is another way to beef up your per cow profits. It takes a lot of time and capital to raise an animal and there is a lot more to them than just the meat. Selling bone-in meat is another way to boost the weight and some also say it boosts the flavor of a steak.
“Your biggest marketing opportunity is to tell your story”, said Carol Gillis, the New York Beef Council executive director, during her presentation on the New York Beef Industry and Checkoff Program. People are becoming enamored with the idea of locally raised beef and care more about where the beef comes from more than ever. She also mentioned that in a farmers market type setting it is a good idea to come prepared with recipes that highlight the flavors and tenderness of the different cuts. This is especially helpful with millenials who seem to prefer mainly steaks and ground beef and don’t generally cook roasts or other types of beef.
Matt LeRoux, SCNY Regional Ag Team, Ag Marketing Specialist, spoke on meat pricing and the different ways in which to sell your meat on the market, whether it is by-the-cut channels, which include farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores or whether it be in bulk channels, such as freezer trade or butcher shops, that sell whole animals. While farmers markets involve a larger time commitment, they allow you to charge a premium for beef. Freezer trade allows less time spent selling, but you’ll get a lower price. Matt also gave a brief demonstration about MeatSuite, a website that allows you to tell a bit about your farm but also has a program that helps you determine what you need to charge for each cut of beef in order to cover the investment you have in them, while still leaving a little meat on the bone as your profit.
The last part of the class involved a hands-on cutting demonstration in the Meat Lab with Michael Lapi, a SUNY Cobleskill visiting instructor. He began with a few primal cuts and explained how and where the cuts need to be to ensure the most meat is utilized. Next he began making subprimal cuts (cuts for retail packaging) and allowed anybody who was willing, to join in and try it for themselves.
While most of the people attending the class don’t butcher their own cattle, this class gave them a better understanding of what to look for and what to ask your butcher to do, such as keeping the hanger steak intact and keeping the bones, hide and organs for other uses.