Spring green is returning to Wyoming’s vast prairies, and newborn calves are tottering into view behind the wire fences of family ranches across the state.
Seasonal farmers markets will soon be in full swing in nearly every county in the state.
Many of those vendors will be selling premium Wyoming beef.
Wyomingites know their ranchers produce quality beef, but with only a couple U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified beef processors in the state, much of that beef is shipped out of the state for processing. Once it leaves Wyoming’s borders, it is often marketed as beef from another state.
Wyoming ranchers and state officials want to change that.
Recently passed legislation calls for the Wyoming Business Council to work with the agriculture industry, and in consultation with the ENDOW Executive Council, on a strategy to build USDA-inspected beef processing plants of all sizes throughout the state and market Wyoming beef locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Gov. Matt Mead and his staff, state legislators, ranchers, trade and foreign market experts, and economic developers sat down last month for an initial meeting at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association headquarters in Cheyenne to take the large task ahead and turn it into manageable actions.
“Agriculture is Wyoming’s third largest industry, but it doesn’t get the credit it deserves in terms of revenue for Wyoming and who we are as a state,” Gov. Mead told the group. “In trips to Taiwan, Japan, China, I continually hear about the demand for premium beef.”
The key to capturing those foreign markets is establishing Wyoming as the best in the beef business. Florida has inextricably linked itself to oranges. Idaho is famous for its potatoes. No one, though, owns beef the way those states own their respective products.
The Business Council has resources to amplify Wyoming ranchers’ messages above the noise. The state’s economic development agency aligns with the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association, for example, to help ag and food companies enter or expand into international markets with export seminars, trade missions, marketing research projects, trade shows and more.
The Business Council also runs a cattle verification program that assures source, nutrition, vaccination, handling and care, and age through independent, third-party audits. The Business Council’s ag marketing program also helps Wyoming producers develop and market bred and replacement heifer calves certified under a standard set of guidelines that can demand higher prices per head at market.
Wyoming’s brand elicits a cowboy ethos of honest, hard work and a wild and free spirit. The state can capitalize on this reputation as it carves out a market for Wyoming beef, Craig Pattee told meeting attendees.
“If we don’t put a Wyoming face on it, the Texans will. It’s important to capture eyes now,” said Pattee, founding partner of public affairs firm Agenda Global.
The recently passed legislation calls for a Taiwan trade representative to help Wyoming ranchers, among other businesses, break into the Asian market.
Taiwan is Wyoming’s sixth largest export market.
“They really like American beef and, more than that, they really want Wyoming beef,” said Briana Tanaka, the Business Council’s agriculture and international trade coordinator. “Last year’s trade mission to Taiwan helped us develop a good relationship with them.”
The U.S. comprises 72 percent of the chilled beef market in Taiwan. Sales of seafood are declining at the same time beef is increasing.
Meanwhile, China is the largest importer of beef in the world, accounting for one-quarter of all global trade, according to John Hinners, assistant vice president for industry relations at U.S. Meat Exporters Federation.
“This is a huge opportunity for Wyoming producers,” Hinners said.
Closer to home, Wyoming officials are encouraged by the renewed interest in USDA-certified meat processing in Wyoming. Last year, Wyoming Legacy Meats opened in Cody.
The Business Council plans to help ranchers and processers alike market their products both in Wyoming and nationally through market development, trade shows and matchmaking services between buyers and sellers.
“With the help of the Wyoming ag industry and trade experts, we are going build a lasting brand through innovative marketing, seek both domestic and international markets and add value to Wyoming beef,” Tanaka said.