By Kindra Gordon & Codi Vallery-Mills

Like any year, 2018 had its ups and downs in the agricultural industry. The annual Good News Headlines is a chance to feature what went right and provide a reminder to the ag industry on its successes. Below we walk you through the good news surrounding beef cattle production in 2018, which included trade, cell-cultured tissue oversight and an American Ninja Warrior.

1. Trade moves forward

If 2018 is remembered for anything it will likely be remembered as the year of trade. There were trade talks, trade tariffs and trade threats that never happened and did happen. President Trump upset the proverbial apple cart on several occasion with foreign countries the U.S. conducts trade business with, but it seems in the long run the Trump administration has had some wins. South Korea signed a revised trade deal with the U.S., while a new agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico was also agreed upon. Earlier this month Morocco agreed to allow U.S beef imports into the country. Japan is talking about lowering regulations on U.S. beef, China has given consent to a 90-day tariff halt and relations with India are building as the country looks to feed its growing population. 

2. Farm Bill headed to President’s desk

Both the Senate and House have passed the Farm Bill conference report. The bill is now headed to President Trump’s desk for signing which is likely as Trump has shown support for it. While the bill does have some faults, the new five-year Farm Bill will keep intact crop insurance, increase guaranteed farm loan limits to $1.75 million and will provide greater security for agriculture banking lenders. The bill also addresses rural broad band, mental health needs, bioenergy and greater market access for ag commodities.

A greatly debated area has been the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which is funded through the Farm Bill. The program will be maintained without new work requirements listed. Along the lines of food security the bill expands funding for the nutrition incentives – making the purchasing of fresh fruits and vegetables easier – and connecting consumers to local producers. 

3. Beef exports remain solid

Every year the Good News Headlines reflects something about beef exports and that is truly a good thing. Without exports the overall value of the cow would dip and industry insiders say the American public would have to consume 41 more pounds of beef per person each year to make up the difference. While that may not sound like a lot, consider the average price of ground beef is roughly $3.71. That is $152 per person each year. For a family of four that is an extra $600 they would need to spend to support the current production of the U.S. beef sector. 

U.S. beef exports remained on a record-shattering value pace in October, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). The month’s beef exports totaled 117,838 metric tons (mt), up 6 percent from a year ago, valued at $727.4 million – up 10 percent and the second-highest monthly total on record. For January through October, beef exports totaled 1.13 million mt, up 9 percent year-over-year, while value was up 17 percent to $6.92 billion. For beef muscle cuts only, exports increased 12 percent in volume (867,714 mt) and 19 percent in value ($6.19 billion). 

Exports accounted for 13 percent of total beef production in October, which was steady with last year, and 11.6 percent for muscle cuts only (down slightly). For January through October, exports accounted for 13.5 percent of total production and 11.1 percent for muscle cuts – up from 12.8 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively, last year. Beef export value equated to $317.53 per head of fed slaughter in October, up 5 percent from a year ago. For January through October, the per-head average was up 15 percent to $320.50. 

“Demand for U.S. beef continues to climb in nearly every region of the world, with annual records already falling in some markets,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “Per-head export value will also easily set a new record in 2018, which illustrates the strong returns exports are delivering for cattle producers and for the entire supply chain.”

4. Waters of the U.S. defined

 Just last week on Dec. 11 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army proposed a clear, understandable, and implementable definition of “waters of the United States” that clarifies federal authority under the Clean Water Act. 

The agencies’ proposed rule would provide clarity, predictability and consistency so that the regulated community can easily understand where the Clean Water Act applies—and where it does not. Under the agencies’ proposal, traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters would be federally regulated. It also details what are not “waters of the United States,” such as features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (e.g., ephemeral features); groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches; prior converted cropland; stormwater control features; and waste treatment systems.

The agencies will take comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA and the Army will also hold an informational webcast on January 10, 2019, and will host a listening session on the proposed rule in Kansas City, Kan., on January 23, 2019.

5. Cell-cultured meat to be overseen by FDA, USDA

After months of taking feedback from livestock producers, food retailers, scientists and consumers, the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they will jointly oversee the regulation of cell-cultured food products from cell lines of livestock and poultry.  

The FDA will have oversight on the cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation of the protein tissues. The USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from those cells and determine what safety and labeling standards need to be met before the cell-cultured products are available for human consumption. 

This was considered a win by many in the beef industry as they wanted increased assurance that lab grown protein couldn’t have the same terms of “beef” and “meat” applied to its product labels. 

While still not concrete, the joint oversight by FDA and USDA lends itself to the belief that the cell-cultured protein issue is headed in the right direction for the beef industry.

6. Secretary Perdue remains on the road

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has remained on the road getting out into the country and visiting American farmers and ranchers where they are. He made stops in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado this year. 

In an interview with CBW earlier this year Perdue had this to say about his travels, “The real genius of American agriculture is not here in D.C. It’s not in the administration, it’s not in the Secretary of Agriculture, it’s not in Congress. It is in the hardworking men and women across the country that have the great ideas, the great frustrations of agriculture. It’s important to get disconnected up here [Washington, D.C.] and get into the real world of what is happening out there.”

7. Rural opioid epidemic addressed

While on the road U.S. Secretary of Ag, Sonny Perdue has heard countless stories of rural communities struggling with opioid misuse. Through his leadership, the USDA is reserving $5 million in the Community Facilities Grant Program and is giving priority to Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant (DLT) Program applications proposing innovative projects to address the opioid epidemic in rural communities. The agency also dedicated a page on its website ( to opioid misuse that helps communities know about the resources it has available in helping its residents battle addiction.  

8. Truckers get ELD waiver 

Commercial livestock haulers recently were given the okay to run on paper logs versus electronic logging devices “until further notice” from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

The ELD mandate was of concern to semi-truck drivers as with ELDs they don’t have as much flexibility in their hours-of-service rules. In cattle country, “on-hours” can quickly be used up and with live animals on board that poses a risk to animal health when a truck driver may need to take a mandated break. Livestock haulers and others in the livestock industry helped bring about the extension and a new act called the Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act that would grant livestock haulers more flexibility in transporting animals.

Members of the agricultural and trucking community are continuing with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and members of Congress to provide a more permanent fix for livestock haulers. 

9. BQA-certified programing expands

The livestock hauling industry was also notified this year that some meat packers – Tyson Foods specifically – are requiring drivers to be Beef Quality Assurance Transportation (BQAT) certified by Jan. 1, 2020. Additionally, Tyson Foods is now dedicated to sourcing beef only from BQA certified producers. 

With those new requirements in place it might seem like a major undertaking to get BQA certified in time. Thankfully, the region’s land grant university Extension programs have been able to fill the need with in-person and online courses making it easy for an individual to become certified. See the BQAT program online at

10. Alexa meets Chuck, America meets the Cowboy Ninja powered by beef

The Beef Checkoff had two shining promos this year that brought beef into the homes of millions of Americans. First, there is Chuck. Chuck is an online guide to all things beef – recipes, cuts, nutrition, cooking tips and more. Anyone who has a smart device like Alexa in their home can just ask about “Chuck Knows Beef” and the device will readily introduce you to Chuck. 

The second win for beef came in the form of Lance Pekus a well-muscled, highly competitive rancher from Idaho that competed in the much-loved sports entertainment TV show American Ninja Warrior. Pekus and his family raise beef cattle and also utilize beef in their daily diets. The “cowboy ninja” quickly became a Beef It’s What’s For Dinner campaign highlight attracting various audiences to the nutrition that is packed in a single serving of beef. 

11. Local beef makes its way into schools

The Hulett, Wyo. and Wall, S.D. school districts both announced in 2018 that they would be providing their school lunch programs with locally raised beef. Ranchers from the surrounding areas are donating animals while others in the communities are donating processing fees. Educational curriculums to be used with the schools’ ag education programs are also being introduced to coincide with the beef to school programs making it a true “farm to plate” experience for school children.

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