As talk of animal ID and source verification escalates in the beef industry, South Dakota has set its sights on a program of its own. Gov. Mike Rounds unveiled plans late this summer for a source- and process-verified branded beef program called South Dakota Certified Beef (SDCB). The beef would carry a label with a picture of Mount Rushmore and the words, “South Dakota Certified, The World's Best Beef.” (See logo on page 62.)

To qualify for the label, cattle must be born, raised and finished in South Dakota. The state's leadership is hopeful that the program will boost the ag economy by keeping more cattle and corn in the state, along with adding value for producers. Currently, 1.8 million head of feeder cattle are raised annually in South Dakota, but about 1.4 million of them go out of state for finishing.

Rounds says the goal of SDCB is to help South Dakota producers share profits of the finished beef product.

“In South Dakota, we raise some of the world's best cattle. That's pretty evident at calf sales each fall when out-of-state feeders come year after year and pay favorable prices for our calves,” he says.

“This program is being implemented to help producers receive the rewards for a lot of the things they are already doing, with the ultimate goal of offering consumers SDCB in the retail meat case,” Rounds adds.

Verification protocols

In addition to the state born, raised and finished requirement, the program requires cattle be raised according to Beef Quality Assurance/Critical Management Plan (BQA-CMP) standards, be fed corn or distillers grain for a certain period before being slaughtered, and be electronically identified (EID) and tracked from birth through processing. Cattle that have not been given any hormones or antibiotics would also earn a special “natural” designation (see sidebar on page 62).

Administration and tracking of the EID calves is expected to dovetail with federal funds the state recently received to help develop a voluntary premises ID program and, eventually, an individual animal ID system. South Dakota was one of 28 states receiving part of $11.64 million in grants to advance the national animal ID initiative.

Processing protocols for SDCB are yet to be determined, says Jim Hagen, secretary of tourism and state development. “We will work with processors and marketers to establish protocols that will meet the highest safety and wholesomeness goals,” he adds.

Meat products that bear the SDCB seal will indicate that processors met those verifiable goals. Hagen adds, “The South Dakota Certified program creates opportunities for our processors and expands the marketability of our quality beef.”

He says several small-scale processors in the state have shown interest in the program, as has the new 600/head/day processing plant being built in Huron, SD. That plant is being built by Ridgefield Farms, a Connecticut-based company, to supply 40% of the product needed for its branded line called Premium Hereford Beef.

Reportedly, the company's business plan also anticipates 30% of the meat it processes to be SDCB, which isn't breed specific. Groundbreaking for the new plant was in September. Production is slated to begin in 2005.

Calves already enrolled

Jon Farris, director of ag development for the state's department of agriculture, reports interest in SDCB has been high. Some calves are already enrolled.

“We've got calves being tagged right now. So those animals will be ready for processing next summer,” he says.

Dustin Oedekoven, a staff veterinarian with the South Dakota Animal Industry Board, also reports a surge in the number of producers interested in becoming BQA-CMP certified — a protocol for the program.

“Many of the new people are interested because they want to be eligible for SDCB,” says Oedekoven, who oversees the state's BQA-CMP certification. He says 500 South Dakota producers are BQA-CMP certified, with 1,500 trained but needing to complete certification.

Farris calls the project “a work in progress,” and adds: “We're aware there may be things that need to be changed. We're willing to listen to producers, processors and consumers and have an open mind to make it work.

“This is a great opportunity for the state, and it's especially exciting to have the governor's support. SDCB is his initiative,” Farris says.

Just how many South Dakota cattle might go through the program is uncertain. Farris says an eventual target of about 20% of the state's 1.8 million calves has been set, but he adds, “If we saw 5% (70,000 head) enroll the first year or two, that would be a home run.”

For more info, visit www.southdakotacertifiedbeef.com.

Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer based in Spearfish, SD, and a former managing editor of BEEF magazine.

The certified protocols

To be eligible for the South Dakota Certified Beef program, producers must agree to the following standards established by the state's department of agriculture:

  • Each operation must have an official USDA premise ID number.

  • Cattle must be born, raised and finished in South Dakota.

  • Cattle must be electronically identified prior to weaning, or entering commerce, and electronically tracked through harvest.

  • All participants must be BQA-CMP certified by the state.

  • Cattle can be no older than 30 months of age at harvest.

  • Cattle must be fed a ration of corn and/or distillers grain for 120 days prior to harvest

  • To qualify for the “natural” certified beef, cattle cannot receive synthetic growth promotants, hormones or implants at any time. No antibiotics or ingredients containing antibiotics may be fed.