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Expanding Opportunities for Small-Scale Beef Producers

Posted by Craig Morris, Deputy Administrator of the AMS Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program in Conservation Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017
Using the USDA Certified Grass-Fed claim as its initial focus, a new USDA program will reduce costs for small producers wanting to market their cattle as USDA certified grass-fed.
Using the USDA Certified Grass-Fed claim as its initial focus, a new USDA program will reduce costs for small producers wanting to market their cattle as USDA certified grass-fed.

Sometimes big things come in small packages.  At USDA, we provide programs and services to producers of all sizes – and now we’re offering even more to small-scale and local beef producers.  Many small-scale producers are contributing to the growth of the grass-fed beef industry.  And, thanks to a new program tailored to meet their needs, they now have another resource in their marketing toolbox.

The USDA Grass Fed Program for Small and Very Small Producers, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is designed as a verification tool for small and very small producers to certify that animals meet the requirements of the grass-fed marketing claim standard and will make them eligible to have their products marketed as “USDA Certified Grass Fed Beef”.

With today’s label-conscious, savvy consumers, producers are relying on verified and certified labels to help distinguish their products in the marketplace.  This new initiative joins our suite of consumer-trusted verification programs for meat, poultry, and eggs.

Audit-based verification services help producers and consumers by providing independent verification so that specific production practices or processing points are clearly defined, accurate, and transparent.  These services can include auditing the raising, feeding, handling, processing, and labeling practices from farm to table.  For producers, this means added value and market-share for their products.  For consumers, it means they can buy USDA certified and verified products and be confident in the quality and integrity of their purchases.  Unfortunately, many small-scale producers have not had an opportunity to benefit from these programs due to the user-fee costs involved—but we’re working to change that.

As part of USDA-wide efforts to create more opportunities for small-scale producers, AMS designed a less costly application and verification process tailored to meet the needs of small-scale producers.  Using the USDA Certified Grass-Fed claim as its first example, the new program will issue certificates that allow small producers to market cattle as USDA certified grass-fed.  The certification will add value to their products, creating new economic opportunities and keeping small-scale producers competitive in today’s marketplace.

The grass-fed marketing claim standard requires that animals be fed only grass and forage, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning.  Animals certified under this program cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.

AMS also recently began publishing a USDA Market News report covering grass fed beef.  This is the first report of its kind, filling a significant data gap for the industry and increasing transparency in the marketplace.

The recent Census of Agriculture shows that there is tremendous growth potential for small and mid-sized producers.  USDA is taking a hard look at our existing resources to ensure that they work for producers of all sizes.  We've adjusted policies, strengthened programs and intensified outreach to meet the needs of small and mid-sized producers.  We’re excited to create this opportunity for small-scale producers to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and communicate the value of their products to customers.

More information about tools and resources available to small and mid-sized farmers will be rolled out in the coming months on USDA's Small and Mid-Sized Farmer Resources webpage.

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Jay McCaman
May 07, 2014

Will things like kelp meal, salt, and diamotacious earth be allowed?

May 08, 2014

Yea, that's what we want. The USDA to have a list of all the folks trying to feed their local community, so they can start creating, and then enforcing rules meant for big ag, that will squash small ag. Check your self Uncle Sam, your in Big Ag's back pocket, and it looks like they might sit down.

Beef Lady
May 09, 2014

Farmer has good insight. Why can't USDA grasp the idea that not all beef producers are the same? Another point I take real issue with: there are a lot of "grass fed" producers out there who meet the requirements set up, but raise their cattle "off the chart" once the inspectors depart. So frustrating for those of us who actually raise cattle/livestock on GRASS their entire life, and actually market the REAL thing! Spot inspections are a JOKE!

Taylor Spruill
Jun 23, 2014

I absolutely agree with you!Thanks for that information.

Apr 07, 2016

I had a USDA inspector say as he cut up my beef heart to little pieces(making them unmarketable), "They told us in training that all you small producers have wormy cows". After he did the same to all six cow hearts, he didn't find a single thing wrong with them! He then accused me of having wormed them! No I didn't! But I couldn't say anything without risking my entire small business.