Need assessment of the Michigan Beef Industry


February 14, 2020 - Jeannine Schweihofer, Melissa G.S. McKendree, Caitlinn Lineback, Murari Suvedi, Daniel Buskirk, Phil Durst, Kable Thurlow and Frank Wardynski,


The Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Beef Team conducted a survey during March, April and May 2019 to determine the educational needs of Michigan’s beef producers and beef allied industry professionals. The survey was administered online through Qualtrics and can be found at The link to the survey was sent via the Great Lakes Grazing Newsletter, Mid-Michigan Livestock Network, MSU Extension News Digest beef list, and MSU Extension educators contact lists. In total, 342 respondents participated in the survey: 253 producers, 25 allied industry members, 38 who were both producers and allied industry members, and 26 neither. The results presented in this report will be used to determine future MSU Extension beef staffing needs and locations as well as programming efforts. The Michigan Cattlemen’s Association will likely use the results as part of their strategic plan for the Michigan beef industry.


The survey was conducted via an online forum, Qualtrics, and consisted of three question tracks – producer, allied industry member, and neither – based on the participants’ self-identified role in the beef industry. Each participant was prompted with a variety of questions related to demographics, operation type, challenges in the industry, and views on MSU Extension’s role in helping meet industry challenges. Upon completion of the response collection, the data were analyzed using the statistical software SAS v. 9.2. The qualitative responses to open-ended questions were categorized based on major themes identified for each question. Six members of the MSU Extension Beef Team scored each qualitative response based on defined categories. SAS v. 9.2 was used to determine the reoccurring themes for each response.

MSU Engagement

All survey participants were asked to answer questions related to MSU Extension’s role in the beef industry and with their operation. Over half of respondents indicated they had received education or training from the MSU Extension Beef Team within the last five years. The most preferred forms of communication were electronic sources (e.g., newsletter, social media), meetings at different locations throughout Michigan, and organizational events (e.g., meetings, field days, field schools, etc.).

Producer Findings

Qualitative questions (open-ended text responses) were administered to identify the producers’ perceived issues in the industry as well as their recommendations for how MSU Extension can better assist producers. The qualitative questions provide an unguided response to the quantitative questions asked later in the survey. One producer indicated marketing/market access as a large issue by stating, “Producers are great at production. But marketing and consumer relations is hard to master,” while another producer identified prices/profitability as a key issue stating, “slow return on investment buying or raising heifers.”

The quantitative responses provided answers to direct questions, prompting the respondent with specified categories to identify problems areas and current practices. Commercial cow calf producers were the largest sector represented (55%), followed by feedlot producers (32%). Natural beef and direct consumer marketing are the largest two categories (> 46%) of marketing currently occurring on beef operations responding. Over 50% of producers are considering finding alternative markets for cattle. The major issues identified by producers were input cost and government regulations, closely followed by animal health, capital availability, and consumer demand. The breakdown among operation type can be found within the summary and in Appendix A. Producers believed that the most important way for MSU Extension to help address the aforementioned issues is producer education. 

Allied Industry Findings

The allied industry questions were aligned with the producer questions with a section of qualitative responses and a section of quantitative responses. Allied industry members noted issues such as, “I see a lot of producers struggling with marketing their cattle,” and, “From my perspective as a conservationist, I believe there is a need to address overgrazing and access to sensitive areas (wetlands).” The majority agreed that education to producers was the area that MSU Extension could provide the most support in the beef industry.

In terms of marketing, allied industry members identified nearly all listed categories as having a high importance, suggesting that marketing as a whole is a key component of the beef industry. Similarly, over 50% of industry members indicated that each issue listed, such as livestock transportation and animal health, were of some concern on the beef operations they work with.


Michigan beef producers and allied industry members were surveyed about their opinions regarding challenges in the beef industry, the ways MSU Extension can help the beef industry address those challenges, and demographic questions. Seedstock, cow calf, stocker/backgrounder, feedlot and grass finishing operations were all represented. Producers indicated marketing/market access and prices/profitability were challenges in open-ended text responses. Furthermore, producers were concerned about input costs, government regulations, environmental issues, animal health, capital availability, succession of operation, and consumer demand. Respondents stated that MSU Extension can help address these challenges through producer education. Producers identified MSU Extension needed more expertise in economics/finance/marketing, grazing forage, nutrition, and feedlot management. This report outlines the current needs of the Michigan beef industry.


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