(JANUARY 19, 2024) – On Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a pilot program to make accessing carcass quality grades – such as Prime, Choice, and Select – available and affordable for small and mid-sized processors.
Through the pilot program, processors will be able to take a picture of the ribeye loin and upload it from their phone to a secure cloud vault. A trained USDA grader, based elsewhere in the U.S., will then review the image and assign a quality grade within 24 hours. The program is specified for use by small and mid-sized operations only, limiting the number of carcasses a processor can present for grading to 100 per week.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) worked with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to provide technical guidance on this pilot program. The concept was presented by the USCA Independent Beef Processing Committee in a policy resolution adopted in 2020.
USCA Independent Beef Processing Chairman Patrick Robinette said, “Before today’s announcement, it was simply unaffordable for an independent producer or processor to participate in providing quality-graded beef to the marketplace. On my operation, the cost would have averaged $410 per head to receive grading services, which I would have never recouped.”
“The pilot program would reduce that cost to $4.56 per head.” Robinette continued. “Now, the producers I serve will be able to access value-added programs that were previously unavailable to them. With the free ribeye grid device that will be provided to participating processing facilities, independent producers and processors can qualify for programs like Certified Angus Beef.
“USCA brought forward a producer pinch point in the marketplace and USDA provided a competitive and producer-driven solution, bringing a process developed in 1916 into the modern era. USCA welcomes this pilot program and looks forward to continuing its work with the Biden Administration and providing technical assistance to fully implement it across the U.S.”