Pennsylvania is the top cattle-producing state in the Northeast with 8,800 beef cattle farms. The commonwealth ranks 19th overall in cattle and calf production, and more than 7,500 of its beef and dairy producers are involved with the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.

Those numbers add up to quite a few beef producers who could benefit from financial assistance to improve their operations.

The Center for Beef Excellence (CBE) is a nonprofit organization, established in 2008 to partner with others in the industry to create “a vibrant, cohesive Pennsylvania beef industry.” While the CBE isn’t new, it’s become significantly more active over the past several years, with several innovative programs for Keystone State beef producers.

“It’s a collaborative effort of board members,” said CBE Executive Secretary Michelle Kirk. “In the past, the Center for Beef Excellence had programs similar to those of the Center for Dairy Excellence, but they weren’t that effective. We wanted to come up with programs better suited for beef producers.”

The mission of the CBE is “to foster collaboration, drive profitability and enhance productivity for Pennsylvania beef producers.”

Other than NRCS programs, limited funding has been available specifically for beef producers, and in some cases, producers don’t qualify for such programs. “The goal of the CBE board is to develop tangible programs to help beef producers get projects on the ground,” said Kirk.

One program available through the CBE is the Beef Excellence Initiative, a cost-share grant funding program to assist producers with projects that will make a positive impact on their operations. The applicant must be a Pennsylvania beef producer and be able to define the impact the project will have on the operation, the state’s beef industry or a regional beef community as applicable. The producer must provide references, consent to visits by the CBE and submit photos of the project.

The Beef Excellence Initiative grant provides assistance for infrastructure projects. “It’s for anything that will improve productivity and profitability on your farm, whether you’re renovating a barn for beef cattle, putting up fence, adding a feeding or watering system or adding cattle handling facilities,” said Kirk. “We want to see every beef producer in the state with their own chute system and cattle handling facility. It’s one piece of equipment that will pay back 10 times over.”

Kirk noted that dairy producers who switch to beef production quickly learn that handling beef animals isn’t the same as working with dairy cattle, and good handling facilities can prevent serious injuries and improve animal welfare. Beef producers aren’t expected to purchase the most expensive handling equipment, just something that works reliably.

Center for Beef Excellence benefits PA producers

The Center for Beef Excellence helped fund a safer squeeze chute for handling cattle. Photo courtesy of CBE

For those who aren’t ready to purchase their own handling equipment, the CBE has two portable chutes available for loan. “They’re free for beef producers to use,” said Kirk. “They just have to pick them up, then wash and disinfect before returning them.”

Two new chutes will soon replace the older chutes, and the sale from the retired chutes should provide sufficient funds for a third chute. The new systems are self-contained with tires and trailer hitches to make transport easier. The chutes are currently located in Somerset and Bloomsburg, and are available for 21 days at a time.

“The maximum grant for the Beef Excellence Initiative is $10,000,” said Kirk. “That would be for a large project like a building renovation. Projects are reimbursement-based, so the producer must complete the project, pay for it, then submit receipts for reimbursement. The grant program will finance up to 50% of a project.”

The Bull Credit Program helps Pennsylvania beef producers purchase quality bulls that will enhance the value of feeder steers going to market and the value of replacement heifers entering herds.

Beef producers can receive a $1,000 credit toward the purchase of a registered bull that is born and raised in Pennsylvania with a minimum purchase price of $2,500. “We want to see quality genetics going back to Pennsylvania herds,” said Kirk. “That’s why there’s a requirement for breed registration.”

Some producers purchase bulls from the Pennsylvania Livestock Evaluation Center’s test program, and those bulls must qualify for the annual bull test sale. Bulls purchased privately must be no older than two years, semen-tested and registered through their respective breed association. Each beef producer is eligible to apply for one bull purchase credit every three years.

Kirk has been the executive secretary for CBE since August 2019. She said her experience raising beeves helps her work with producers who are seeking program assistance.

The CBE program receives funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “We have great contacts there,” said Kirk. “We’ve shown them growth over the years, and the board would like to expand the program to include more producers and projects.”

by Sally Colby