As feeder-cattle and feeder-calf prices adjust to new market dynamics of corn, ranchers are left with little leverage regarding the cost of gain beyond the ranch gate. What they can control, however, is the cost structure of their ranch business. In “Find your red flags,” on page 12, Harlan Hughes provides some tips and insight into ranch-business warning signs.

With expenses rising, incomes sliding and retail demand for beef struggling, how is an optimist to maintain his sunny disposition? Ron Torrell asks. In “Half-empty or half-full?” on page 16, the University of Nevada Extension specialist provides some perspective on what's happening, what's ahead and how to cope with it.

In 1986, the U.S. was mired in a fifth year of interest rates escalating to about 20%, skyrocketing input costs and inflation, plummeting land values, and dismal demand for beef. But an enterprising group of producers saw the potential and formed what is now Country Natural Beef. In “Matching Consumer To Rancher,” on page 28, Wes Ishmael tells their story.

Do today's margin-squeezing conditions make a case for or against participation in value-added beef alliances? That's what BEEF intern Amanda Nolz, a South Dakota State University journalism senior, asked four value-added beef firms — Meyer Natural Angus, Power Genetics, 70:70 Beef and Certified Angus Beef. Her report, “Gearing Up Or Gearing Down?” is on page A2.

This issue contains our 11th annual directory of value-added alliances, the industry's most comprehensive listing. Compiled by Managing Editor Alaina Burt, the “2008 Alliance Yellow Pages” profiles 34 consumer-based and calf-based programs, including contact information, history, specs and premiums. Find the compilation on page A8.

Because cow-calf producers are the first player in the beef-supply chain, their priorities and concerns in the design of a national, individual animal traceability system are critical. Learning more about those attitudes was the purpose of an exclusive BEEF/Michigan State University (MSU) study. In “ID Feedback,” on page 52, MSU graduate student Lee Schulz provides a report.