Beef a centerpiece of nation’s ag puzzle

A third of the way through 2024 means warmer days will inspire many Americans to fire up the barbecue grills.

That means steaks and hamburgers will be shared at Mother’s Day, graduations, Memorial Day, reunions and other gatherings. High Plains Journal knows it starts “at the boot level.”

We know it is not easy. Today’s livestock producers are challenged. The nation’s beef herd, at 28.2 million head, is the smallest since 1951. Drought in the High Plains states has curbed expansion opportunities, and higher interest expenses have made spreadsheets more difficult, particularly for younger producers. Economists from the land-grant universities say that a rebuild will be slower than in the past. Just 10 years ago we experienced similar straits, but they noted the drought conditions eased, and much lower interest rates spurred a quick expansion pace.

Still, there is reason for optimism today. Economists have taken note that today’s beef producer also has opportunities because prices are higher. Consumers at home and around the world crave United States beef.

The April World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report noted that beef exports were raised on recent trade data. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, U.S. beef exports in February were 244 million pounds, almost 3% above same-period shipments compared to the previous year and higher than expected projections.

The ERS put fed cattle prices about $2 per hundredweight higher than the previous month at $185 per hundredweight. That is about 5% above prices in 2023. Demand remains strong, even though the expected harvest capacity is projected to be down about 2% in 2024.

The backdrop provides an opportunity for HPJ to put the spotlight on the sectors in a way to help inform readers about what the beef industry means. At HPJ during May we plan to celebrate Beef Month with coverage about traditional topics and non-traditional ones. We’ll also add content to to help provide greater insight.

Several cover stories this month have a beef focus. One cover will note the history of Beef Month. Another cover will be a Cattle U preview. Cattle U is an annual event undertaken by HPJ and is scheduled for June 25 in Manhattan, Kansas.

Topics will be tailored each week. We plan to take a look at perspectives from the cow-calf producer plus provide analysis from a market overview and herd numbers. Another topic will be a consumer perspective with a look at chefs who incorporate beef into menus. Another topic will be about the perspective shared by those in the feedlot sector. We’ll also look at the industry from a processor and meat science perspective. Our coverage will also include analysis on consumer purchase trends and pricing information.

The beef industry is important, and we hope readers enjoy our upcoming commitment. After all, it starts at the farm and ranch level.

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