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‘Stupid high’ prices don’t stop cattlemen's worries

Gene Johnston 02/01/2012 @ 11:00pm On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

Cattle prices have gone through the stratosphere in recent weeks, to over $1.20  a pound liveweight for market steers.  Never fear, farmers and ranchers will find things to worry about.

But at least they worry with a smile on their faces. Here are some comments heard near the registration desk at this week’s Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville.

Jana Malot, Harrisonville, Pennsylvania, is with her husband, Clem, at their first-ever Cattle Convention. They have a small brood of cows, and sell feeder calves and grass-fed finished beef. The cost of inputs is on Jana’s “worry” list, even though her costs are fairly low because they feed no grain. “I worry that beef is becoming a food just for the rich,” Jana says of today’s high beef prices. “I’m also worried about increasing government environmental regulations, and the growing influence of animal rights activists.” On the positive side, she’s seeing more young people coming back to agriculture on small farms. They’re taking what may have been a large farm, splitting it into four small ones, and producing things for local markets. “It’s young people and women doing this, and our farm numbers are growing. It’s not a bad thing,” she says.

Bill Rhea is an Arlington, Nebraska, rancher who backgrounds cattle on pasture, and runs a feedyard. “I’ve been coming to this meeting for 40 years,” he says. “I like to associate with the people, and try to have an influence on the direction of the industry. I firmly believe in being an activist.” Rhea is particularly interested in the new genomics of the cattle business – using genetic markers to predict future performance and carcass characteristics. “We’ll be able to tailor our product for what consumers want,” he says. “I think the future of the beef industry is bright. We haven’t attracted young people because of a lack of money in farming and ranching. Well, the money is back. And the cattle business is still one where a young person with ingenuity can get a start with a few cows, and grow. You can’t do that anymore in most other businesses.” Rhea has three sons, all partners with him on the farm, and one is with him in Nashville. “I preach to him all the time – give back. So, he’s here serving.”  

Steve Anderson made a 45-minute drive from home to get here to the Opryland Hotel complex for Cattle Convention. He grazes stocker cattle, mostly on a custom basis for investors, near Carthage, Tennessee. “It’s interesting, but when prices for cattle are stupid-high like now, there are more people who want to own them,” says Anderson. “Everybody is in a rush to get in while the price is going up.” He typically buys calves at 300 to 500 pounds, and right now good ones are costing his investors $1.80 to $2.00 pound. “I come here to meet new people, new potential business partners. Last night at dinner, I sat by a guy from Kansas who may want to buy some of my calves for his feedyard. He’s looking for cattle with a history behind them, which mine have because I’ve backgrounded them and got them going right. If you just piece together a group of cattle from 27 different farms in the Southeast, and take them straight out to Kansas, they don’t live very long.” Anderson is not very positive about the future of cattle in his area. For one, development is driving land prices through the roof. “It’s hard to justify cattle on land where you might make $100 an acre, when you can sell that land for 20 times what you paid for it a few years ago,” he says. “And our bankers are not interested in cattle, either, they look down on them. In the Midwest, cattle and agriculture are their main business. Not here.”

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