The market for natural and organic beef products, currently at $350 million annually, could grow to over $1 billion within the next five years, attendees at a recent grass-fed beef conference were told.

The conference, at Texas A&M University, was sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Attendees learned about several topical areas, including fundamentals of growing forages, nutrient needs of cattle, beef processing, economic sustainability, and production and marketing.

The growth-potential numbers were provided by Bob Meeks, a South Texas producer who was part of a panel of speakers who discussed their own experiences in the grass-fed beef business.

“This is a niche market and there are a growing number of consumers who want access to locally grown meat,” Meeks said. “Consumers will pay 30% more for natural meats and 15-200% more for organic meats."

“Whether you call it grass-fed or organic, it’s one of the most interesting aspects of the cattle business right now,” said David Anderson, an AgriLife Extension livestock economist.

Anderson discussed the various aspects of getting into the grass-fed beef business, starting with a basic business plan. He said producers must evaluate the consumer they are catering to and if their business is profitable.

“You need to identify what your goal is and what you want to do with your business,” he said. “Are you making enough profit to keep doing it as long as you want or do you want to perhaps someday pass it down to heirs? These are some things to consider going along.” Anderson emphasized the need to keep good records, that the cows are “profit centers” and producers need to keep track of income and expenses on females.

The expense breakdown on a cow is $571, factoring in depreciation, veterinary health expenses, feed, etc. With fewer cows to operate than a regular cattle operation due to forage availability, Anderson said each carcass produced has to be sold at a high margin.

“When you are grass finishing and have fewer cows for a given area and fewer calves to market, you’ve got to be able to sell the whole carcass at a high price.”

“We had far more registrants than we had initially predicted,” said Rick Machen, AgriLife Extension beef specialist. “This aspect of beef production obviously is gaining more attention, and there is a hunger for information on how to get started or become more profitable.”