Kansas legislators, university researchers have eyes on the state’s meat and milk production

TOPEKA — New research from Kansas State University shows interest in purchasing Kansas-raised beef from farms has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

the survey of 198 consumers and 66 beef producers looks more closely at the dynamics of marketing beef to help farmers capitalize on strong consumer interest in locally produced foods. According to the results, 61% of responding beef producers said their business-to-consumer marketing increased in 2020 and 2021.

Gregg Ibendahl, a K-State Research farm management economist, said the margin between the price of beef in the grocery store and the price producers get for live animals has expanded quite a bit in recent years.

“Producers are thinking ‘there’s got to be a way I can earn some of that margin back for myself,’” Ibendahl said. “By selling directly to consumers, they can, but in doing that they are going to have to take on a lot of the roles that packers and retailers are doing. But there is potential for more profitability for producers through direct marketing.”

Travis O’Quinn, a meat scientist in KSU’s department of animal sciences and Industry, said consumers are interested in buying local products.

The Kansas Legislature has also taken an interest in ensuring consumers can buy meat easily this session. A bill approved by the state House 113 to 0 would require plant-based meat companies change their labels to ensure consumers don’t accidentally buy fake meat instead of real meat.

Restaurants would be exempt from the requirements. The bill was amended in a conference committee to make it easier for these plant-based meat companies to meet the new requirements.

“We need to protect the trademark of Kansas ranching families,” said Rep. Tatum Lee, a Ness City Republican and fifth-generation producer. “Vote yes on SB 261 to label fake meat versus real beef. Let’s save Kansas cattlemen and rural Kansas towns.”

Meat scientists at K-State found that consumers prefer the taste of meat to that of imitation products. The Kansas Beef Council funded that research.

The Senate did not vote on the conference committee compromise before adjourning until April 25.

Legislators also approved a bill allowing on-farm sales of raw milk with a label identifying the product as unpasteurized. Senate Bill 346 would leave the secretary for the Department of Agriculture in charge of assessing the health threats of the milk supply.

The measure continues an effort to reform laws on the sale of milk products since a judge in 2019 struck down a 50-year ban on raw-milk advertising beyond the farm where the products were sold.

The House approved the bill 119 to 3, with senators concurring on amendments 27 to 12. An effort by a handful of senators to send the bill to a conference committee failed.

“This bill is good for producers, consumers and animals even that have a veterinary inspection certificate,” said Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain.

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