Future Beef, a comprehensive gene-to-retail beef system, is set to begin operations this month.

The sprawling beef production facility scheduled to open in Arkansas City, KS, on Aug. 6 is said to bear little resemblance to a traditional beef packing plant. That's appropriate, however, given that the owner Future Beef Operations (FBO) L.L.C. is said to bear little resemblance to a so-called traditional beef marketing alliance program.

The plant is the first of four, and possibly five, projected FBO facilities that will ultimately supply Safeway, the third largest retailer in North America, with beef and beef products in its 1,700 stores. That is but a part of the FBO model, however.

FBO calls itself “a vertically coordinated supply chain.” Tired of what it sees as an “an antiquated commodity system, and beef's lack of consistency and meaningful data,” every segment from genetics to retail is represented in the FBO model.

In addition, FBO has developed and instituted set protocols on genetics, nutrition, animal health and management for all its program cattle. With its package of consistent inputs and processes, FBO believes it can consistently meet the carcass specifications of:

  • Carcass weight range of 600 to 850 lbs.

  • Rib eye area of 11½-16 sq. in.

  • Cutability a hot fat trim yield above 58.4% (63.5% dressing percentage followed by a 92% hot trim yield).

  • Marbling. Must be a Slight -30 or higher, comparable to USDA's mid Select.

  • No more than 3% outliers.

The program eschews the USDA quality grading system. It promotes terminal cross-mating systems for carcass yield and is emphatic on proven genetics. It also will implement intervention strategies such as multi-site electrical stimulation and new aging technology to guarantee tenderness.

Data Is At The Center

The backbone of the system is a single, comprehensive database. FBO will collect and share among the partners all performance and value information on program cattle, all of which will be individually identified and source verified.

As of mid-June, the FBO gene-to-retail system consisted of the following units:

  • Approximately 100 genetic seedstock suppliers are currently being tested by FBO. In addition, there are 1,000 cow/calf producers and 20-25 stockergrowers.

  • Five “feedlot partners.” These west Kansas yards include Decatur County Feed Yard, Oberlin; Lane County Feeders, Dighton; AZTX Feedyard, Garden City; Sunbelt Feeders, Hugoton; and Hy-Plains Feedyard, Montezuma.

    The feedyard management of FBO cattle uses multiple objective measurements on individual animals to allow for optimum economic end-point projections.

  • One nutrition supplier Vigortone.

  • One animal health supplier Intervet.

  • One animal inventory system.

  • One feed grain genetics supplier Pioneer.

  • FBO is building a system of centralized genetic management.

  • One beef production facility (Arkansas City, KS) with a daily harvest capacity of 1,650 head of cattle, 429,000 head/year. It is designed for maximum food safety. It will feature a critical control point system for tenderness management and an individual carcass data collection system.

    The facility also is fully equipped with instrumental evaluation, in addition to featuring on-site, value-added processing for convenience, cooked, deli and case-ready beef products, pet products and further leather processing.

  • One set of specifications designed largely for one retailer.

Minimizing Inefficiencies Is Key

The plan is to coordinate the genetics, production and processing segments and utilizing the latest technologies deliver to Safeway beef products of consistent high quality with absolute safety and at a low cost. FBO believes that minimizing the inefficiencies common to commodity beef production and maximizing the value of beef animals will provide wider profit margins for sharing among program participants.

A privately-held company based in Parker, CO, FBO says the majority of its investors represent the beef industry's production segments. Russell Cross, former head of USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, serves as CEO.