Where's the Beef?
Organic Farming Results in Big Taste, Big Profits
By Bill Redeker
F O R T D A V I S, Texas, Oct. 18
— Organic beef is selling briskly — and ranchers Rocky Beavers and Jack Dees are profiting from it.
Beavers and Dees raise 100 percent organic cattle in the high plains of West Texas. They don't use pesticides and herbicides on their grass or feed, or growth hormones and antibiotics on their cattle.
"We became concerned about the implants, steroids, antibiotics in beef and began to look at other alternatives," said Dees.
Going organic is not easy. Calves must be born from organically raised mothers. And if a calf gets sick and needs antibiotics, ranchers must give it a different tag on its ear and send it through the conventional process. The calf is then no longer considered organic.
The federal organic rules, which are monitored by inspectors, are so strict that organic feed must be kept under lock and key to avoid tampering or contamination.
Even the slaughterhouse must be cleaned after processing conventionally raised cows. And an animal that is not born organic can never be converted to an organic animal.
Nutritionists suggest that organically raised beef may prevent the spread of diseases such as "mad cow" disease. But the Department of Agriculture makes no claims that the meat is safer or more nutritious.
Why Is It So Popular?
So why is demand outpacing supply? Why is McDonald's demanding organic beef in its hamburgers by next year?
Many shoppers say they choose organic beef because it gives them peace of mind — due in part to marketing claims that it is better.
As one woman in a grocery store said, "It's fresh, it's good, I know where it's coming from."
But there is another reason: taste.
"The taste is delicious," said Mike Murphy, a chef in Ft. Davis, Texas who owns a restaurant and catering service, as he closed the lid of his grill barbecuing organic steaks. "It's a fresher taste."
That's because organic ranchers breed only cows that produce flavorful beef while keeping the fat content down.
But buying organic can be expensive. Organic beef costs 50 to 60 percent more than conventional beef, which explains how ranchers can afford all the organic expenses and still make a profit.
"We're talking somewhere between 20 and 30 percent profit margin," said Beavers. "I'll take it."
And the profit margin is why Beavers and Dees hope to triple the size of their 500-head herd in two years.