COLLEGE STATION, While beef demand continues at a brisk pace, consumers are paying close attention to its source and cattle producers are taking note, said one Texas Cooperative Extension expert.

"This is leading to some new emerging markets such as source- and process-verified beef," said Dr. Jason Cleere, Extension beef cattle specialist and conference coordinator of the 53rd Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course.

"(Consumers) are wanting to know where their product comes from and that it's 100 percent safe."

Several management and production issues are the focus of this week's short course in College Station, billed as the largest in the nation. Some 1,475 beef producers are attending the event, conference organizers said.

Ethanol production and the impact on corn and grain markets, plus rising fuel and fertilizer prices, are other key issues cattle producers are facing, Cleere said.

"As a whole, input costs are a big concern," he said. "However, it appears the (strong) cattle market is going to hang around, and one of the other biggest factors (we've overcome) is drought."

Cow-calf producers should expect continued steady prices, but profit margins are extremely tight in the feedlot and packing sectors, said Randy Blach, executive vice president of Cattle Fax.

"My biggest fear coming into this year was elevated grain prices and what it would do to calf prices," he said during his market outlook. However, prices have rebounded after slipping earlier in the year, and "we've been able to sell product.

"We've got record-high retail beef prices and we're asking the consumer to pay more for the beef product. So far, so good. Demand year to date is up."

However, the price of corn — and its relation to ethanol production has led to much volatility for stocker and feedlot operations.

"We've got a corn crop brewing somewhere (around) 13 billion bushels," he said. "Somewhere in the 12.8 and 13.2 billion bushels (range) is the best estimate I've seen. Remember, we've got a situation going on here that demand for corn is going like this (pointing upward). Next year, we're going to have to be able to grow 13 billion bushels."

While this year's corn harvest projections have been positive and weather conditions have been favorable, Blach said these factors weigh heavily on cattle market pricing.

Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M University, told producers that work continues throughout the Texas A&M agriculture program to enhance commodities, particularly beef, through research and Extension.

"Nutrition and animal health are at the heart of such efforts," she said, noting recent approval of a new research veterinarian who will be located in Amarillo to "help the industry better serve that region."

She highlighted other program areas, including state appropriations that will further research of bi-products from ethanol production for cattle feed; research in food safety and nutritional quality, and continued development of partnerships with industry and associations.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said he appreciates the image beef producers uphold across the state.

"Texas beef producers are a rare breed among themselves, committed to value, stewardship and hard work," he said.

For more information about the short course, visit http://animalscience.tamu.edu/ansc/BCSC/index.html