Intersection of the Cattle and Beef Industries

(AS2040-17, September 2021)

The COVID-19 pandemic was disrupting to the U.S. beef industry. Marketing, processing and distribution channels were interrupted in a manner never seen before. NDSU Extension created a series of webinars to provide accurate science- and evidence-based information that allowed producers, consumers and decision makers to make more informed decisions in the face of chaos. Only by understanding the entire breadth of the cattle and beef industries can we comprehend the impacts of major industry disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic or packing plant fires.

This article is part of the 2021 North Dakota Livestock Research Report.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Lisa Pederson, Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, NDSU
Web only
Publication Sections


The beef industry as a whole was challenged as COVID-19 disrupted the marketing, harvest, processing and distribution of livestock and their products. This series of programs was designed to give perspective to the situation created by the closing of harvest facilities as well as look at how COVID had disrupted the normal production cycle of beef. Due to the confusion and chaos surrounding this disruption, our objective with this webinar series was to provide an accurate, science- and evidence-based overview of the U.S. beef industry from conception to consumption for cattle producers, consumers and decision makers.

Extension Response

Collaborators from North Dakota State University Extension, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture assembled experts from all facets of the beef industry continuum to present scientific and evidence-based information in a 15-session webinar series. Beginning on May 7, 2020, twice weekly webinars covered the following topics: overview of the current situation; imports, exports and MCOOL; packer profits; the pork and poultry industries, how the beef industry is similar and different; local meats: challenges and opportunities; the Beef Checkoff; in-depth perspective of how cattle are priced: a discussion about price and value discovery, and the futures market; virtual packing plant tour; ground beef, heavy carcasses and imports; domestic and international supply and demand; historical overview of the beef industry; changes in how beef is supplied to consumers in grocery stores and restaurants; in-depth perspective of drop credit, hide and offal; an in-depth look at market cows: trading in cows, upgrading cows and improving your cowherd; the intersection of the cattle and beef industries: change is inevitable, progress is optional. Has improvement in carcass merit and growth equaled progress in the cow herd?

Results and Discussion

The webinar series had more than 3,000 in-person participants from eight countries and the recordings have had more than 400 views. Participant survey data demonstrated that 90% of attendees agreed or strongly agreed that they learned what they expected (Figure 1).

Bar chart showing participants level of agreement with the question, "Did you learn what you expected?" Strongly agree: 49%; Agree: 41%; Somewhat agree: 7%; Neither agree or disagree, Somewhat disagree, Disagree: <3%; Strongly disagree: 0%
Figure 1. Intersection of the Cattle and Beef Industries. Did you learn what you expected? Participant data from 15 sessions.

Surveys also indicated that producer knowledge significantly increased from prior to attending webinars to after receiving education. Before programming, 17% of attendees rated their topic knowledge as “a lot” or a “great deal,” and after the webinar sessions, 81% of attendees rated their knowledge as “a lot” or a “great deal” (Figure 2). Attendees reported using the information taught on the webinars to make more educated business and policy decisions and several who were members of state legislatures stated they used the information to be more informed when developing or deciding on legislation impacting the beef industry.

Bar chart showing participant knowledge before and after attending. None: Before - 12%, After - 1%; A little: Before - 36%, After - 4%; Moderate: Before - 34%, After - 24%; A lot: Before - 13%, After - 42%; Great deal: Before - 4%, After - 29%
Figure 2. Participant Knowledge Before and After Attending Intersection of the Cattle and Beef Industries

The webinar series is archived for future viewing at www.ag.ndsu.edu/livestockextension/intersectionwebinars.

Feedback on the webinar series:

  • “I don’t know if you could do a greater service to the industry and the subject than these webinars. Thank you so much.”
  • “Never have I ever participated in such a comprehensive, 360° view of the beef and cattle industry. While being involved in many facets of beef cattle production, my eyes were opened to the many components, features, qualities and obstacles that brings beef from pasture to plate. I have shared the processes, facts and knowledge I have learned with other industry individuals, and have suggested to many young adults the time invested into this webinar is worth its weight in gold as they get a foothold on their place in this industry’s future!”
  • “I was fortunate to attend most of the webinars in the Intersection of Cattle and Beef series. Following are my observations related to the utility of this series for U.S. beef producers:
  • The series was very timely. The U.S. beef industry had experienced two black swan events in less than eight months – The Tyson beef plant fire in August 2019 and the COVID pandemic. Both impacted the beef industry by disrupting the harvest and distribution of beef. This disruption immediately impacted cattle prices and compromised the profitability/sustainability of many operations.
  • The webinar series was informative, especially for cow-calf producers and those lacking experience in the feeding, harvesting and distribution segments of the beef industry. Participants were allowed virtual ‘behind the scenes’ visits to harvest facilities and visits with those in the business of distributing and merchandizing beef. The better one understands the entire industry, the more effective they become at managing their segment and the product(s) there from.
  • By increasing knowledge and understanding of other segments of the industry, the webinar series relieved some of the distrust cow-calf felt for other segments of the industry. Record large packer margins frequented industry news outlets, while profit margins in all other segments of the industry shrunk or went negative. The webinar series masterfully explained profit margins and contributors to the magnitude of these margins.“
  • “As a state legislator, I used the information on the mandatory price reporting, formula pricing and price discovery. This webinar gave me a better understanding of what all was included and meant by the 30/14 50/14. It allows me to better make a decision on it!”
  • “This course should be mandatory for every college student enrolled in agriculture.”
  • “I can hardly stand the wait for Tuesday and Thursday nights now! I know this is for producers but consumers can learn a lot too! - retired electrical engineer with zero agricultural experience except eating food from Texas”


NDSU collaborators:
Dave Haasser
Scott Swanson

Non-NDSU Extension Collaborators:
Ron Gill, PhD, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension
Davvy Griffin, PhD, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension
Jerry Yates, Davis College of Agriculture, West Virginia University