“The Nebraska Beef Council has been a really great supporter of my program and the research projects that I’ve done,” says Calkins. “When you talk about what’s the biggest impact, I would say that it’s the muscle profiling project and all the subsequent downstream things that influenced and came from that as well.”
Born and raised in Washington state, on what he described as a “farmette,” Dr. Calkins was a State FFA President, and received his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M. After a few days of working on clean up duty in the meat lab, Calkins knew being around beef and studying it was a path he was interested in and wanted to pursue.
“I walked into that meat lab, and in many ways I really haven’t left,” Calkins said. “It’s still what I do.”
Calkins says he moved through life quickly, finishing his master and doctoral studies at Tennessee and Texas A&M by the time he was 25. That fall he started working at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Animal Science Department, a place he stayed at until his retirement in August of 2021.
“My focus has always been on quality and value,” Calkins said. “Anything that adds value to the product, that’s been the kind of overarching emphasis of my projects.”
When it comes to his renown study that resulted in the flat iron and quite a few other previously unknown or properly marketed cuts of beef, Calkins called it a “win, win, win” situation.
“It was a win for producers because they’re getting more money for animals,” Calkins said. “For processors having a chance to channel products in the right way and in the marketplace; and, for consumers getting a steak where they can always know what to expect.”
Although Dr. Calkins is technically “retired,” his schedule would say he is anything but. Aside from being a doting grandfather, he continues to promote “Beef from Nebraska,” for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture globally. Dr. Calkins has visited over 20 countries in the last decade, speaking on behalf of the science behind beef from Nebraska. On these trips, he speaks to audiences consisting of executive chefs, culinary students, and other customers of beef distributors. His trips have taken him to places like Bulgaria, the Canary Islands, and everywhere in-between.
“When you have a salesman telling you something, you know, you sort of take it with a grain of salt,” he said. “But if you have a scientist come and say this is a science-based production system that builds quality into our beef, suddenly the credibility of the information goes way up. The attention to the quality of Nebraska beef, it goes up.”
Dr. Calkins says that promoting beef from Nebraska is an effortless task and talks about what he calls the Nebraska advantage when it comes to agriculture.
“I just talk about the way we produce animals, the natural resources, how we have the setup for a state that allows us to build in quality,” says Calkins. “The quote I always like to say is, is if you were going to invent a place to raise quality beef, you would invent Nebraska.”
The Nebraska Beef Council is a non-profit organization served by a nine-member board of directors. The volunteers oversee the beef checkoff in Nebraska and checkoff-funded programs. Programs for marketing and promotion are funded by the $1/head beef checkoff.