The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun a pilot of its new remote grading program for beef.

How remote grading works

The current remote grading program (RGP) relies on digital data collection and imaging technology to allow producers to share videos and images of their beef products with USDA graders. Rather than visiting butchers directly, graders can view and analyze the beef remotely on their computers. The USDA currently anticipates this process will result in a 24 hour turnaround for small producers.

The cost for the pilot program is charged at an Unscheduled Service Fee rate. Actual costs of the program when it officially launches are as of yet undetermined.

The short video below explains the process:

Why remote grading matters

Remote grading of beef - and eventually, other livestock products - allows smaller producers, and those who are more remote, to access the benefits of the USDA Official Grade process. These producers will then be able to promote and sell their beef at the official quality level. Meanwhile, the program will reduce costs as it eliminates the need for travel by qualified graders.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Independent Beef Processing Chairman, Patrick Robinette, said in an article on Dairy Herd Management:

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.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.

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How to apply for the remote grading pilot program

The USDA has an official release which details the requirements for producers who would like to join the pilot program. They include:

  • Must be a domestic beef slaughter facilities operating under a federal grant of inspection (FSIS inspection), FSIS Commercial Interstate Shipping (CIS) Program, or Federal-State cooperative inspection agreement.
  • Consultation and confirmation of eligibility with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).
  • Business must apply and be approved for USDA Meat Grading Service.

For full details, visit the USDA Remote Grading Pilot website.

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