A new program from Pennsylvania is innovating the future of agriculture with a new approach to beef farming.
“This will reshape one of the most complex sectors in the agriculture industry – the beef sector,” said Larisa Miller, CEO of Keystone Farm Future.
After two years of development, the program was launched at the end of last year. “We wanted to get it right before we launched it,” Miller said.
The program connects customers such as supermarkets and restaurants with local farmers. Keystone Farm Future’s first customer is regional grocer Karns Quality Foods, which has stores in Dauphin, Cumberland, York and Perry counties.
Farmers participating in the program will feed, house and care for the cattle that supply beef to the regional supermarket chain and future customers, but they will not own them, Miller said.
Individual Keystone customers, such as Karns, will own the cattle and Keystone will manage the Angus beef herd.
“Grocers and restaurants have control of their supply chain and they know they’re getting locally raised beef,” Miller said. “This allows farmers to keep cattle on their farms without the expense of buying the herd and the uncertainty of marketing it when raised.”
“This is going to change the way cattle ranching is done in Pennsylvania,” said Keystone Farm Future herd manager Dave Rodgers. “Most farmers have to look for sales after raising the beef. We secure the sales before the farmer raises the beef. Since the farmer doesn’t need to get a loan to buy the livestock, it means they can apply for loans for things like making improvements to the farm.
Keystone is currently working with a dozen farmers in Lancaster, Lebanon, Chester, Perry and Juniata counties. Rodgers said most farmers in Lancaster County are Amish.
“Low milk prices and insufficient demand are putting economic pressure on dairy farmers, and some of them are selling their herds,” Miller said. “Our program can help them switch from dairy cows to Angus beef and maintain an income stream so they can keep their farms. We have a staff member who can help with the transition.
A farmer himself, Rodgers has been raising cattle, primarily Red and Black Angus, for more than 40 years on a family farm in the Honey Brook area. In addition to being the Keystone Farm Future herd manager and raising cattle through his company, DJR Cattle Co., Rodgers also owns a 90-head Angus herd with Keystone.
“I wanted to expand the herd on my farm, and this was a great way to do that,” he said.
Rodgers said he uses knowledge gained from working with his own herd for Keystone’s program. He visits farms before they are accepted into the program.
“Choosing the right farmers is important — farmers who can raise the cattle to meet specific customer needs, such as to meet USDA criteria for prime and prime beef,” Miller said. .
Rodgers also purchases all Black Angus cattle for the program. Dr. James Holt is chief veterinarian, overseeing induction, preventative care, diagnostics and intensive care for herds under the direction of Keystone Farm Future. The team also includes nutritionists Jackie Behr and Kevin Smith, who work with farmers to create the rations for the beef they raise for the program, Rodgers said.
Keystone Farm Future works with medium-sized local processors. The finished beef product may bear the PA Preferred logo, which identifies foods produced and processed in the state.