Director Column

Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center director's monthly column featured in Cattleman Magazine. Archives

Dan Loy in The Cattleman Magazine


February 2023

Sustainable intensification

Feed costs are at record levels. We will see volatility in future feed prices but we may be entering a new era of higher costs. In this environment efficiency is at a premium. Any management change or technology that improves feed conversion is more valuable than ever before. Because of this, now is the time to reevaluate the technologies available to you and perhaps reconsider some that you have not yet adopted.

Let’s start with implants. No technology returns more value per dollar invested. Feed conversion will be improved as much as 15% with the right implant in the feedlot. Evaluating your implant program is even more important because of label changes scheduled to take effect in June 2023. Reimplanting within the same phase of production will now be restricted unless the label specifically allows this. This will limit some popular reimplant programs used by producers. The good news is that there will still be very effective implants available, including some longer duration versions.

Feed additives can improve efficiency. Most cattle feeders feed an ionophore. However, fewer feedlots take advantage of beta agonists. Beta agonists increase carcass muscle and efficiency of nutrient use. This includes ractopamine, which is marketed as Actagain or Optaflexx. One of the reasons for the hesitancy of some to feed beta agonists is the feeding window (last 28-42 days) and uncertainty about a firm marketing date. A new, different beta agonist called Experior is expected to become more widely available this winter/spring. It has a much longer window of use and is being marketed based on its ability to reduce ammonia emissions to the environment. This is a good example of technologies that are beneficial to the environment because they reduce resource use and improve efficiency. This concept has been called sustainable intensification.

What is sustainable intensification? It can be described as embracing technologies that improve economic and production efficiency while improving the environment or allowing conservation to occur. Worldwide this includes beginning to adopt practices that are common in the US like genetic selection, managed grazing and reproductive technologies. Here in the US any management that improves efficiency, including performance technologies, adds important tools. Another emerging area with great potential to improve the efficiency of the beef industry throughout the value chain is selection for feed efficiency. Improved EPDs and genomic tools make the potential for genetic improvements a reality. The kind of genetic improvement that we have seen in beef quality over the past 20 years is possible for efficiency over the next 20 years.

Sustainable intensification is based on the fact that efficiency and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand. However, when asked about sustainability consumers point to animal care and welfare. Social acceptability is the third stool of sustainability. This includes animal care and stewardship, employee and neighbor relations, and even farm transition and continuity. Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification is a way for you to be updated on good practices on the farm that help ensure good animal care, beef safety and wholesomeness. BQA recertification is needed every three years and many of you may have certifications that are expiring. This year there is an updated curriculum. Check the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC) BQA page regularly for a session near you. BQA events are hosted by the Iowa Beef Center team through a cooperative arrangement with the IBIC.

The IBC at Iowa State University serves as the university’s extension program to cattle producers. Our center comprises a team of faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. We work together to develop and deliver the latest in research-based information to improve the profitability and vitality of Iowa’s beef industry. If you’d like to be notified of updates on progress of research projects or programs that might be coming to your area, please subscribe to our “Growing Beef" newsletter by following the link on our website, If you have a question, use our "Ask our Experts" link. Also, feel free to call us at 515-294-BEEF or email us at You can also follow @iowabeefcenter on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram and now AgFuse.