May is Beef Month

Chad Smith

May is Beef Month, a page of the calendar set aside to celebrate and promote Minnesota’s beef producers, who not only provide us tasty meals, but contribute more than people might realize to the state’s economy.

But what does “May Beef Month” mean to the people who are out promoting beef on a daily basis? “We do promote beef year-round, but we’re kind of nostalgic about May in Minnesota,” said Karin Schaefer, Executive Director of the Minnesota Beef Council. “In May, we’re ready to go be outside and fire up our grills. Beef and grilling really go hand-in-hand in Minnesota.”

While the Beef Council promotes cooking beef in many different ways, but Schaefer says May is the time of year that Minnesotans “get out of hibernation.” Beef fits nicely into the month of May as Minnesotans celebrate Memorial Day. Retailers are also getting into the spirit of May Beef Month by running specials on different kinds of beef cuts.

Ashley Kohls is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association as well as a working beef producer. Her organization also promotes beef on a year-round basis, but she says it’s great that May is set aside as a special month to draw attention to the many benefits of beef. They also use social media to draw attention to the things cattlemen around the state do to promote their product.

“Something special that we did recently involved hauling some grills up to the state capitol in St. Paul,” Kohls said. “We grilled steaks for legislators on the grassy area in front of the capitol building. We just wanted to let them know that May is National Beef Month and talked about our industry while serving them steak on a stick.

“Technically, we did do the event in April,” she laughed. “As farmers, it’s a crapshoot whether or not you can get busy people to show up at an event like that in May.”

Schaefer said there are many reasons that the beef industry needs to self-promote. One of the biggest reasons is modern consumers, who are much more interested than ever been about how their food is produced and where it comes from.

“Consumers are much more interested in learning how to cook beef and they aren’t quite sure what to do with beef,” Schaefer said. “There are a lot of different cuts and they can all be cooked differently. Our job is then to connect consumers with the information they need to make sure they prepare beef in the right way.

“We’re also fortunate enough to be able to connect consumers with the people that produce the product. It gives us a chance to help answer consumers questions about how beef cattle are raised. All of our staff members are either currently active in a family operation or grew up on a beef farm. Because of that, we’re confident that we can give consumers the information they need.”

A couple of the biggest questions consumers have for folks in the beef industry include beef cuts and what the cattle are fed as they’re raised on farms.

“We get a lot of questions about culinary technique,” Schaefer said. “One that kind of surprises us over and over is consumers really want to know the difference between grass-finished and grain-finished beef. Consumers don’t realize that the vast majority of a conventionally-raised steer’s life is spent on grass, out in a pasture.”

Schaefer said consumers are much more comfortable about the food they eat if someone takes the time to answer their questions. For a long time, agriculture didn’t have any kind of conduit to connect the consumers with the people who produce their food. Schaeffer thinks that’s what all (beef) checkoffs are ultimately trying to do.

Kohls says she gets a lot of questions about why it’s important to spend so much time promoting beef, especially up at the state capitol. Her response is, that if cattlemen need to keep lawmakers informed, not only about what they do, but why.  “We have a full-time lobbyist that’s at the capitol every day,” she said, “and I’m up there twice a week. We also bring cattlemen from all corners of the state a couple of times a year and have them talk directly to lawmakers about their operations and what’s happening in their corner of the state.”

How important is the beef industry to Minnesota? The Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association wanted to find out, so they commissioned an economic impact study. The beef industry’s positive impact on the state doesn’t just measure in the millions. The impact climbs into the billions.

“Beef is a $4.9 billion industry in Minnesota,” Kohls said. “When we talk about cash receipts, beef is only behind the pork industry. Minnesota is number one in turkey production, but when you look at the economic impact of it, beef is only behind the pork industry.”