Cattle industry takes center stage in May

Dave Bergmeier

As grillers head out to the backyard to celebrate with a favorite cut of beef it is important to remember it all starts with the stewardship of farmers and ranchers across the country. The High Plains is at the heart of production, and the statistics speak for themselves.

The top seven states for the number of beef cattle are Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Montana. According to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture, the top states in sales include Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Missouri. California was seventh in the rankings.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, in 2021, cattle production was forecast to represent about 17% of the $391 billion in total cash receipts for agricultural commodities. That makes cattle production No. 1 in the cash receipts category.

Farmers and ranchers will continue to be mindful of costs, though. In its April 2022 report, the ERS noted that drought, tight forage supplies and macroeconomic factors are forcing producers to cull deeper into their herds. Higher beef cow slaughter pushed non-fed cattle slaughter to the highest levels in decades in the first three months of the year, the ERS reported, as cow and bull slaughter forecasts were raised this year. A reduction in first quarter expected fed cattle slaughter more than offset an expected increase in fed cattle slaughter in the rest of 2022.

None of this is a surprise to those who have a front-row seat at the farms and ranches, feedlots and auction barns. Our coverage has focused on several of those impacts. The fickleness of Mother Nature, most notably through drought and wildfires, has meant producers have to take a closer look at their options. Producers—even with favorable prices, which is a traditional signal to expand herd size—instead are focusing on managing the expected tight forage supplies and escalating expenses.

Throughout the beef chain there are pressure points including higher corn prices that impact feedlot bottom lines. Diesel is expensive and not projected to come down anytime soon, which affects transportation costs.

Market transparency is an agreed upon principle and the discussion has wound its way through the halls of Congress. There has not been any consensus on the next step as ranchers have also indicated they want to be able to retain their own market decisions, wary of government red tape and regulations that could plant the seeds of unintended consequences.

The drive to open smaller meat outlets has continued to catch the eye of consumers and investors both. Ranchers have also endorsed the expansion but it does not happen overnight.

National Beef Month, in May, comes at a time of uneasiness about challenges ahead, but as farmers and ranchers also know this is not the first time the industry has had to tackle a challenge. Americans and the world crave this nation’s beef and that is worthy of celebration because it starts with the commitment farmers and ranchers. Their work is not unnoticed by consumers.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].