To some it may seem odd that an issue entitled “What Are Your Calves Worth?” would use on its cover the image of a woman's manicured fingers drafting a personal check. While the image might run counter to the popular notion of who pays the dollars that pass between the beef industry's production segments, the depiction is precisely correct.

All dollars that pass within and between the segments of the U.S. beef industry flow from only one source — the consumer. As a result, giving consumers the beef products they desire — in the form, quality and value that they desire them — is the key to the future and prosperity of the beef business.

That mindset is overtaking the industry. Increasingly, beef producers are adopting the philosophy that their responsibility for quality goes well beyond the gate and all the way to the plate. The result is that more producers are seeking to document and build that quality into their herds and want to be rewarded for it.

Just a few years ago, 15% of fed cattle in the U.S. traded through forward contracts, formulas and marketing grids rather than on a cash basis. In 2000, the figure was 40%, and it will continue to grow.

The situation presents both opportunities and challenges to cow/calf producers. To address these concerns and questions, we've compiled a series of articles produced by the country's top marketing experts. To further illustrate the “on-the-ground” application of these concepts, we've included vignettes detailing producers' experiences with data-driven management and marketing. I hope you find this package useful in seeking your opportunities and fine tuning your competitiveness in this new beef cattle business.