September 22, 2000

A representative of the largest integrated feeder-cattle marketing firm in the United States will be a featured speaker at Southern Beef Day. Jim Gibb, of eMerge Interactive will discuss eMerge Interactive's new vision of cattle marketing.

The company already has purchased Eastern Livestock, a dominant Kentucky feeder-cattle marketing agency, as well as a Texas cattle business. This has been eMerge's strategy to quickly get established. However, its vision calls for major changes in the way cattle are marketed.

"They've developed a business plan, which calls for doing all of the steps leaders of the beef industry have been discussing for years," said Lee Meyer, agriculture economist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "The fragmentation of the beef industry into competing levels has been one of the bottlenecks. Since eMerge is establishing footholds at all levels, they may be able to put their system into place."

Meyer said eMerge is starting with the assumption that there are major gains to be had. Problems such as: mixing good with poor quality feeder cattle; loss of identification; and lack of a reward for good health programs all add up to value loss, low prices and a lack of reward for progressive managers.

But, by putting better marketing programs into place, eMerge expects to add value and improve opportunities for producers at the same time. They call this "value chain integration." The result will not only create better opportunities for farmers, but it is said to be necessary to improve the food safety record of the industry and address meat quality and consistency.

Cattle in the program will have an electronic ID tag, which follows the animal through the system, from birth to the meat wholesaler. A health certification process will cover not only vaccinations, but also practices such as weaning and handling. Then, using the CattleinfoNet information management program, the history of each calf will be available at each system level.

"This, when coupled with Internet marketing, is planned to both help producers improve the value of their calves," Meyer said. "And, also to help assure the buyers of each calf's value, which is the only way they will be willing to pay."

To make sure that small operations can participate, eMerge is including assembly facilities so that lots of similar cattle can be put together. It is not yet clear if they expect to manage preconditioning as part of their system. The final piece of the puzzle is CattleinfoNet's Interactive Marketplace, which will be a comprehensive Internet marketing system for all the supplies and inputs cattle producers need.

"This may be one of the most ambitious efforts to change the cattle marketing systems ever attempted," Meyer said. "Many of the changes being proposed by eMerge are coming about quickly. For example, individual animal electronic ID is starting this year in Canada and is being discussed by the USDA."

Farmers now are selling feeder cattle over the Internet. Meyer said eMerge Interactive's concept certainly is something the industry has been calling for. The challenge will be offering its services in ways to fit the needs of a very traditional industry.

Southern Beef Day is Friday Oct. 6 at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Ky., beginning at 8:30 a.m. The day also will include a trade show and educational programs. Contact Paul Deaton for more information, (606) 677-6180 or your county Extension agent.


Paul Deaton (606) 677-6180