Louis Perino, DVM Professor, West Texas A&M University

Describe the top factors that made cattle feeding what it is today.

Everything we've done related to cattle feeding has been predicated on developing confinement feeding operations. None of this could have happened without disease control strategies to prevent catastrophic disease outbreaks.

But, frankly, I don't think we're anywhere near controlling feedlot diseases to the point of which we're capable. We will continue to move toward complete disease prevention.

Five things separate feeding from the rest of the beef industry.

1) We implement technology at a higher rate.

2) We have the largest percentage of full-time businesspeople totally dependent on the economic success of the enterprise.

3) We make the greatest use of outside expertise to enhance efficiencies.

4) We make the greatest use of risk management tools.

5) We operate on small margins, tolerating small amounts of profit opportunity but doing it multiple times.

What are the primary trends driving the feeding industry to change?

Consolidation - what's unique about the cattle industry is that it's happening through alliances or other means of coordination. Cost competitiveness with other protein sources is a driving force, too. And, there's an ongoing concern with food safety and environmental issues. Export markets offer much growth potential but we have to address cost and cultural concerns in each market.

Will there be changes in feedyard customers and those who buy cattle from the feedyard?

I see three possible directions for beef buyers to go.

* Feeders (sellers) may reach forward and build relationships with its customers to foster distribution of specific products.

* Retailers may reach back and build relationships with suppliers.

* The packers may reach out to sellers and buyers to develop business relationships both ways.

Or, a food company may build a bridge through a packer directly to the feedyard for specific criteria. Conversely, a feedyard may build relationships in the opposite direction.

What technologies will most affect feeding?

Technology that impacts production areas such as disease control, improved vaccines and better understanding of feedlot diseases will have the greatest impact.

Biotechnology will impact genetics and provide greater understanding of the genetic basis of things such as growth and the quality of meat.

Informatics - computer hardware and software capability - will increase. We'll be able to manage feedlot diseases better since they're caused by bugs in combination with the way we manage cattle. Informatics can help us figure the management side of the equation.

Will cattle flow and processing change?

Yes, dramatically. New processing barns are being built with more thought toward animal behavior, cattle flow and processing. We may change the timing of certain processing operations, too. We now do it when it makes sense and it's convenient. Using real-time informatics and the databases involved, we'll learn more about timing it right for the cattle.

Ivan Rush, beef specialist University of Nebraska

Describe the top factors that brought cattle feeding to the point it is today.

We've been able to handle a lot of cattle with very few people. The feeding industry is almost like manufacturing. We've adapted technology rapidly compared to other segments.

Feeders in general take large financial risks, and economies of scale have helped. Larger feeding operations can be satisfied with smaller per head profit margins.

What are the primary trends driving the feeding industry to change? Industry consolidation. However, there are still opportunities for smaller feedyards, especially if we move toward specialized production or branded products.

What food industry and consumer trends are creating changes in cattle feeding?

We're getting mixed signals from consumers. They want a lean, tender, high-quality product and a quality eating experience. It's difficult to do it all. They want a safe product, too.

We're seeing more sorting to meet demand for a lean, quality product and we're responding to overfat carcasses. But, we don't have a good reward system for feedlots. When we have such a system, we'll respond to consumer desires more quickly.

Will there be changes in feedyard customers and those who buy cattle from the feedyard?

There will be three tiers of feedyard customers.

* Producers growing cattle for specific markets. Genetics will be set and they'll have feeding agreements that specify how to feed to meet a certain endpoint.

* Producers who feed commodity cattle.

* Larger cow/calf producers with a market in mind before they turn out the bull.

What technologies will most affect feeding?

If we go back to the cow herd, it could be sexed semen or cloning. There will be continuing effort to feed individual animals to specific endpoints. We may see partitioning of nutrients and be able to feed for marbling and tenderness without affecting backfat. We'll get individual identification perfected.

Don Gill, Extension beef cattle specialist Oklahoma State University

Describe the top factors that brought cattle feeding to the point it is today.

The industry has become efficient at adopting technology. Feedlot efficiency has increased greatly since the mid-60s. In general, we now only need 5 lbs. of dry matter to get 1 lb. of gain.

Genetics have changed, too. Most cattle today are big enough that we can get them to market weight without ceasing gain.

What are the primary trends driving the feeding industry to change?

Feedlots have gotten larger and with that comes economies of scale and the ability to afford and utilize more technology.

The amount we take per head has decreased over the years because of competition among feedlots. It's benefited the consumer and the cow/calf producer - if feedlots had to extract from cattle today the percentage they did in the 1950s or '60s, there wouldn't be much left.

Feedlots will get bigger. It's difficult to operate with less than 100,000 head, one-time capacity if a feeder is going to help with risk management and marketing. I suspect smaller feeders will fall into a specialty niche where they might produce branded products.

What food industry and consumer trends are creating changes in cattle feeding?

We now know consumers want convenience and quality eating from our product. We're way behind on developing new products. We don't know who's supposed to do it - packers, producers, retailers? If someone outside the industry does it, it's unlikely cattle producers will reap the benefit.

Will there be changes in feedyard customers and those who buy cattle from the feedyard?

The retained ownership player is dominant in feeding mixed with stocker operators. This trend is growing and that's good because feedback gets to the cow/calf producers. And, we must become better at marketing cattle and at risk management.

Will cattle flow and processing change?

Products today have made the hospital pen almost obsolete because of long-term therapies available. Plus, we're probably going to make as much economic progress in understanding animal psychology as with feed efficiency or anything else. As we get a handle on the psychology, we may use smaller pens, different alleyway setups or a number of other variances.

Gerry Kuhl, Extension feedlot specialist Kansas State University

What are the primary trends driving the feeding industry to change?

Business management or economics will be the primary driving force of change. Social influences could impact this, however. Consumers want to know where there food comes from and that animals are treated well. We need to be sensitive to the perception consumers have of our industry.

What food industry and consumer trends are creating changes in cattle feeding?

We're getting two messages from the industry. Marketers say retailers and purveyors are as ignorant of our product as are packers. The other message is that more folks in the retailer/purveyor group recognize that to sustain a high volume of meat, we have to develop relationships.

Because these people are in constant contact with consumers, they must give a consistent message to packers and producers. They need information about consumer concerns so they can ensure consumer satisfaction. We can't continue to tolerate a 20 percent eating experience failure rate in this industry.

Will there be changes in feedyard customers and those who buy cattle from the feedyard?

There will be more retained ownership from the cow/calf and stocker sectors. Plus, the coordination between stockers and feeders is growing. This will result in year-round grazing programs.

A lot of cow/calf producers will align themselves with a partnership arrangement with the feedyard or in an alliance so they get premiums for their breeding.

What technologies will most affect feeding?

We'll see fewer new pharmaceutical products coming down the line. It's too expensive to get products researched, tested and approved. We may see somatotropin products similar to the ones in the dairy industry. We'll also see activity within betaagonists and new antibiotics.

On the equipment side, electronic ID will become acceptable.

What about feedyard personnel?

Labor will be an increasing problem. We're having a short-term effect now because the swine industry requires so many workers. Feedyard managers will continue making strong efforts to minimize the amount of labor needed. We needed one employee per 1,000 head of cattle 20 years ago. Today, one employee handles 2,000 head or more.

Todd Milton, feedlot specialist University of Nebraska

Describe the top factors that brought cattle feeding to the point it is today.

One of the most important components has been the use of consultants and other professionals to provide feeders with technical information.

In general, feeding operations have more complete assessment of costs associated with production because of the more controlled environment than the cow-calf segment.

Other general factors include: the price of grain relative to forage on an energy basis, consumers' desire for grain-fed beef, larger feeding operations can take advantage of the economics of scale and increased use of futures and options to protect prices.

What are the primary trends driving the feeding industry to change?

The first issue is labor. Not only general labor, but finding and retaining dependable, well-trained personnel. Many jobs in the feeding industry are becoming more technical and specific.

Second are environmental issues.

Third is that the industry has made great strides in reducing carcass defects. Next, we have to demonstrate to the public that we take measures to prevent food-borne pathogens.

What food industry and consumer trends are creating changes in cattle feeding?

The increasing awareness of food safety as well as the price consumers pay for food. Beef should be priced competitively to retain consumer interest. We should also consider product convenience.

Will there be changes in feedyard customers and those who buy cattle from the feedyard?

Partnerships among producers, processors, purveyors and retailers are taking shape. As producers develop relationships with others in the chain, cattle must be harvested and processed for these customers. These relationships must include the packers, and I believe the packer will remain the dominant fed cattle buyer.

We'll see feedyards integrated into food companies through alliances or other relationships. Also, there will likely be some other integration of the feeding industry into the food business.

What regulations will most affect feeding?

Environmental regulations. Feedyards will continue moving to remote areas due to public perceptions, zoning and regulation. These areas will likely be in the more arid climates. Regulations may also result in fewer and larger feeding operations.