March 28, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

For the fourth year, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has gathered beef producers, Extension agents and industry professionals for a study tour of one of the premier examples of integration in the United States.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina has long been known as a self-sustaining enterprise that has profited from adding value to its many agricultural products. Beef, vegetables and other food raised on Biltmore’s farms support its restaurants. Eighty acres of grapes supply the juice for the Biltmore winery and the nursery turns out decorative plants for use in the estate’s landscape.

Kentucky beef producers know that in these changing economic times, they must find new and innovative ways to add value to their own products, so many agree the Biltmore is a good place to begin thinking in that direction.

Kim and Belinda McCoy come from rural Cumberland County. For them, 200 acres of row crops, 120 head of beef cattle and some wheat and tobacco are the names of the game. They operate a small feed business in their community and from contact with local producers, they realize it’s hard to find anyone who likes change. The McCoys were encouraged by other producers they met on the study tour.

“It’s all about education. What I’ve really learned is how important cooperation is with other farmers,” Kim said. “A lot of farmers don’t want to try something new; they don’t like the word change. Maybe we can go back and convince them of a few changes we can all make to improve our cattle so we can group them together for sales.”

He said it’s good to get away from home to see how people do things in other parts of the country and so the thought process is not influenced by local surroundings.

“When you’re in your own setting and in your own neighborhood, you tend to talk about things you would talk about at the coffee shop,” he said. “But people from all parts of Kentucky come on this tour and you learn other things, hear other opinions and it’s different. It’s good.”

The McCoys took part in several small-group discussions with participants from other counties. They all worked to identify the five top issues they think are limiting factors in the beef industry. After those discussions, the groups joined as a large team to bring the issues before the entire group and work to find solutions.

Among the top factors the groups identified was consumer confidence. Study tour attendees agree they must gain the consumer’s confidence if they want to effectively market their product.

Bonnie Tanner, UK's Asst. Director of Extension for Family and Consumer Sciences, marks her choice for the number one limiting factor affecting the beef industry.UK’s Assistant Director for Family and Consumer Sciences Bonnie Tanner attended the tour for the first time and was glad to see consumer confidence rising higher on the priority list.

“It is important to educate the producer on turning out a better product,” she said. “But it won’t make a difference if we don’t start reading the consumer better and producing a product the consumer says they really want. So, we may have to change some of our traditional ways.”

Tanner said the consumer has a perception that red meat must be bad for diets because it has fat. She said producers and extension professionals need to educate the consumer that some red meat in their diet is good.

“We just have to have variety and watch the portions of all the products we include in our diet,” she said. “The producers are going to have a role in educating consumers in the future. It’s good to come to these meetings and talk about how they are going to do that.”

Attendees got to tour Biltmore farms and talk with managers who take care of them on a daily basis. Liz Kingsland, FCS Extension agent in Hardin County attended for the third time and said the tour has always served as a way to build a better relationship with the Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in her county. They are now working together on the Beef Integrated Resource Management team.

Greenwell, middle, talks with Jimmy Henning, UK Forage specialist (left) and Ted Katsigianis, the Biltmore's  Vice Pres. for Agriculture/ Environmental Issues and Natural Resources at the Biltmore Vineyard.“If it hadn’t been for attending this Biltmore tour with him, we might not have the beneficial relationship we have now,” she said. “I think FCS agents can add a lot to this process, especially when it comes to focusing on the end product that comes from the farm and winds up on a consumer’s table.”

Washington County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources Rick Greenwell brought a team from his county for the third year consecutive year. His groups have taken ideas back home and have made some positive changes.

“We’re way more focused on what we should be focused on,” he said. “For example, the changing industry. This meeting helps you address that – to think differently than granddad and dad did and to come up with a way to lead other producers to realize that too.”

Green said team members usually are leaders before they come, so when they go home people listen to them and take them seriously. They learn information they can really use. He encourages other county Extension agents to get involved in the next tour, wherever it may be.

“Don’t wait to be asked, just ask to be included,” he said. “You’ll be amazed at the differences you’ll see in your county.”

All participants went home energized and excited to try new things on their farms and hopefully influence neighbors to do the same.

“This meeting has really opened our eyes,” Belinda McCoy said. “We are going to go back and try to improve our beef herd, maybe feed a little different ration. We’ve learned about rotational grazing and we’re going to try that. We’re also going to plant some alfalfa, which we’ve never had. Maybe if we can take some of these ideas back with us and show people at home that they do work, we can change their minds about some things.”


Doug Shepherd  270-765-4121