There used to be an old saying that you don't hear much any more. People would talk about making a silk purse from a sow's ear.

What they meant was taking something of little value and using it to make something of greater value.

Well, that's what beef cattle do. They use grasses, roughages and other feed to produce a wholesome food product. Cattle actually use little concentrates, as grain, in their production, contrary to what you might have heard on talk shows.

In reality, only about 20 percent of the concentrates fed to livestock goes to beef production. Unlike pork and poultry, beef can be produced with little, if any, grain.

Beef cattle get their nutrients from grasses and other forages produced on land not suitable for crop production and from other feed resources not suitable for poultry, pork production or human consumption.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture economists, fewer than two pounds of concentrates are used per pound of beef produced. This is lower than that for pork or poultry.

The USDA also reports that 1.3 million square miles (43 percent) of the total land area of the continental United States are used primarily to grow grasses and other forages.

The situation is similar in Tennessee. We estimate that five million (42 percent) of Tennessee's 12 million acres of agricultural land is in forage production.

Without cattle, this tremendous acreage of grassland would be of little benefit to consumers and the state and national economy.