U.S – USDA has unveiled a revolutionary pilot project, the Remote Grading Pilot for Beef, aiming to empower more cattlemen and meat processors with access to USDA carcass quality grades.
Developed by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), this project leverages technology and robust data management, enabling a USDA grader to assess beef carcass characteristics and assign quality grades remotely.
The initiative is expected to reduce costs and location-based barriers, opening the doors to wider participation in voluntary grading services.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the pilot during a panel discussion at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, emphasizing the significant value of USDA Prime grade beef.
The initiative seeks to bridge the gap between smaller-scale processors and the farmers and ranchers they serve, who often find the costs of voluntary USDA grading prohibitive.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association have voiced their support for the project, anticipating improved marketing opportunities for cattlemen.
Ethan Lane, NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs, highlighted the significance of USDA quality grades and expressed enthusiasm for the expanded opportunities the pilot could bring to smaller, local processing facilities.
USCA Independent Beef Processing Chairman Patrick Robinette emphasized the economic impact, stating that the pilot program would make providing quality-graded beef more affordable for independent producers and processors.
The cost reduction is expected to enable access to value-added programs that were previously financially out of reach for many.
In addition to the pilot, Secretary Vilsack highlighted USDA programs in the West supporting on-farm conservation, creating jobs, and ensuring the viability of farming and ranching for future generations.
“This initiative is part of USDA’s broader approach to increase competition in agricultural markets, create fairer conditions for small- and mid-size farmers, and offer producers more options for marketing their products.”
Consumers, buyers, and sellers of beef rely on USDA quality grades, such as Prime, Choice, and Select, for standardized indications of quality.
The remote grading pilot, based on a feasibility study conducted in 2023, involves trained plant employees capturing specific images of live animals and beef carcasses, submitted electronically to a USDA grader for assessment.
The pilot aims to gather additional information on costs and in-person surveillance needed for program consistency and integrity, paving the way for formalizing this innovative service option as part of the USDA Quality Grading Service.
Limited to domestic beef slaughter facilities under federal inspection, the Remote Grading Pilot for Beef is set to reshape the beef industry landscape, fostering inclusivity and efficiency in the grading process.